My very first fanfiction! A special thanks to SekritOMG for being so patient and for helping me through both the highs and lows of writing this fic. Please enjoy! All feedback is appreciated.
"So Karen called yesterday."
Kyle glanced up from his monitor. Kenny hadn't spoken about his younger sister since she ran away eighteen years ago. Kyle had no idea they still kept in touch, or that she knew where to reach Kenny.
"Oh. How is she?" Kyle kept his tone polite and detached. His fingers continued to dance across the keyboard with pointed purpose, though his eyes stayed fixed on Kenny, who was flipping through TV channels on their couch. The silence that followed might have been uncomfortable if they hadn't lived together for almost six years.
"She's fine, I guess. The house she lives in—well, used to live in—got totaled by a tornado."
Kenny landed on a rerun of Jeopardy before the batteries in the remote died out.
"Yeah. Actually, it might have been flood."
Kenny yawned and stretched out, his head resting on a pillow that read "home-sweet-home" with little floral patterns. Kyle's mother had given them that pillow when they first leased the house six months ago. It was supposed to look homemade, but Sheila either forgot or didn't bother to remove the tiny sewn-on tag that said "JC Penney" on it.
"Anyway," Kenny continued when the commercials started, "I was wondering how you would feel if someone stayed with us for a little while. A few weeks, or probably a month or two at the most."
Upstairs consisted of two bedrooms and a bathroom; downstairs had folding walls to separate the living room and kitchen/dining area. Kyle was obsessively neat and became somewhat neurotic when stressed. Kenny came and went sporadically, sometimes bringing strangers home with him. They had six years to work out conditions under which they could both function in an environment together. A third person could disrupt their entire biome, sending all of them spinning into chaos.
Lifting his glasses off the bridge of his nose and carefully setting them on the table, Kyle responded, "Of course Karen can stay with us. For as long as she needs to." It was the answer Kenny was expecting.
Kenny sat up and squinted to see the time displayed on the barely-functioning VCR below their TV stand. 10:34PM.
"Okay. I'm going to run out and get some batteries."
Kyle folded his laptop down and watched his roommate fish for his car keys between the couch cushions.
"They're in your back pocket."
Kenny patted his ass and smiled his signature smile, the one with a certain charm unique to him, to which girls had been giving up their virginity since middle school. He playfully said, "Thanks, babe", at which Kyle rolled his eyes. Before he walked out the door, Kenny looked over his shoulder, the mirth completely vanished.
"By the way, it isn't Karen who's going to be staying with us." Kyle wished he could say he wasn't impressed with the dramatic pause. "It's her son."
Kenny didn't wait to see Kyle's reaction. He also didn't come back until 4 in the afternoon the next day.
"I can't believe Kenny would just drop a bomb on you like that."
Kyle shrugged his shoulders and accepted the coffee Wendy handed to him. They sat at their usual table in the Quad, both preferring the outdoors to the faculty cafeteria.
"I mean, wow. Karen McCormick... pregnant. Just picture that for a second."
He already had pictured it. More vividly than he cared to admit. Imagining that pale little eleven-year-old ghost, bright and adorable, morphed into something elongated and bloated, her young supple belly stretched out to make room for a child, was enough to make his stomach churn more violently than bananas ever could.
"So do you know the age?"
"Of the baby, of course!"
"Oh. I think Kenny mentioned he's... nine? Ten?" Kyle's heart raced.
"Okay. So Karen left when we were about fifteen, making her about eleven. And she was gone eighteen years, and her kid is ten years old right now..."
Dr. Wendy Testaburger tended to think in numbers, a side-effect of a lifetime of studying statistics.
"...So that would mean she was..."
Nineteen when she had her baby.
"Nineteen when she had her baby!"
Kyle was glad he had coffee to sip.
"Do you know if it's a boy or a girl?"
"He's a boy, I think."
"I didn't ask."
"How could you not be curious?"
"I don't know."
"Do you at least have any idea what he looks like?"
"What ever happened to 'three questions and a statement'?"
Wendy put her elbows on the table, laced her fingers together, rested her chin on top of them, fluttered her eyelashes, and smiled. A few strands of hair escaped her painful bun and tickled her collarbone.
"We're not in therapy, Mr. Broflovski. Care to schedule an appointment?"
"Your hourly rates would cause a guy like me to go bankrupt." He wasn't trying to be cute.
"True." Wendy laughed. "Maybe we should meet up after hours to negotiate."
"Yeah, maybe." Kyle tossed his empty paper cup into a trashcan. She eyed him as he flipped through a three-ring binder. His eyes shuffled across the pages, not really reading the words.
"You seem distracted."
She sighed loudly. "Never mind. You should register, um, the boy at the elementary school before he arrives. That way he can start going right away when he gets here."
The binder was promptly shut.
"What do you mean, 'register'?"
"Well he obviously has to go to school! He'll fall behind in his studies, and he can't stay home alone all day."
"That's Kenny's responsibility, not mine."
Wendy opened her mouth but her purse vibrated before she got a word out.
"I have to go," she mumbled after checking the screen on her cell phone. "An appointment with one of my students. This is the fifth time he's asked me to look over his paper this month. I think he's in love with me."
"You probably look like his mother."
"Ha. Ha. Look." She leaned over the table and pecked him on the lips. "Call me. We'll do dinner."
Kyle didn't see her for the rest of the day. On his way home, he stopped by his old elementary school and picked up the registration forms for new students.
After one week, Professor Broflovski had managed to figure out that the boy's name was Eric. That Eric had brown hair, blue eyes, was 10 years old, and stood at five feet. That he would stay with them for exactly 72 days and sleep on the new pull-out sofa. Kyle would take Eric to school in the morning on his way to work, and Kenny would pick him up at 3 o' clock sharp in the afternoon. Eric would have the kitchen to himself to do homework until six, which is when Kyle would return home and prepare dinner for that night and the next morning's breakfast (Eric would have lunch at school). They would eat at seven, Kenny leaving for his new job at the bar at eight, and the cycle would repeat itself the next morning.
"Well, it all sounds very good in theory."
"You're sitting on my lesson plan."
Wendy shifted her weight to the side for just long enough for Kyle to snatch the sheet of paper from under her. She then firmly planted her bottom back onto Kyle's dark oak desk.
"So what time does his plane arrive?"
Kyle sighed. "At 2."
Wendy checked her wristwatch. "An hour and a half from now," she announced, like Kyle hadn't been counting down to that dreadful hour since 6AM. "Anyway, I think it's good for you boys to accept some responsibility into your lives. Good for Kenny, at least."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Wendy stood up and spun around on her heels. "Well..." she trailed off and made a motion with her hands and eyes. Kyle stared at her blankly.
"I'm not saying that he's not reliable, or not a good friend. He's just a flake. He does his own thing and never really needs to worry about it."
"So what you're saying is..."
She walked around the table and put a hand on his shoulder.
"What I'm saying is it will be good for him. That's all." A kiss on the forehead meant that that was the end of the conversation.
"Dr. Testaburger?" A voice with a light tenor broke in. Wendy pulled away from Kyle in an instant, treating an innocent peck like a scandalous love affair. They both faced the interlocutor.
"Oh! Butters!" Her blush deepened upon recognition.
"Gosh, I'm sorry ma'am! I didn't realize I would be interruptin' anything. I would've knocked, I really would've, but the door was open and I just thought... Gosh I'm sorry!"
"Um, no! It's fine! I'm fine. Professor Broflovski, this Mr. Stotch. He's in my beginner Psych. Class. Butters, how did you find me?"
Butters smiled. "I wanted to talk to you about my essay! I was hoping you could review it sometime this week."
Wendy sighed. "Mr. Stotch, I don't think I can be any more thorough in my notes."
"Oh, it's not that your notes weren't thorough, Doctor. I just thought you should look it over. I added a new argument!"
Kyle wished they would have this conversation somewhere else. Wendy's hands brushed over the front of her smooth pencil skirt, looking for pockets. When they didn't find any, her fingers twiddled together and held one another, displaced and exposed.
"Yes, of course I'll read over your new argument," she said finally. Butters smiled and reminded Kyle of a newborn chick.
"Um, I guess I'll meet you in my office."
"Yep, okay! Nice meeting you, Professor Broflovski!"
"Likewise, um..." Butters left before Kyle could finish his sentence, which was fortunate for both of them, seeing as Kyle had forgotten the boy's name already. Wendy didn't follow him quite as eagerly, however, and Kyle wouldn't have put it past her to drag her feet if she didn't think herself too sophisticated. She walked right out of the room without so much as a goodbye, but she did have enough courtesy to close the door behind her.
Kyle sank back into his chair, the black leather feeling cool under his fingertips. Arching his neck across the headrest, he closed his eyes and tried to focus on his breath as it entered his body, expanded his ribcage, and filled his stomach. Breathing out through his nostrils, the air left his stomach first and then his chest, like a wave. For a moment, everything was okay, but Kyle knew better. Just like the soul-breaking blue skies before a hurricane, he knew that something terrible was looming over the horizon. Somehow he knew he was destined for something awful, and the idea (of being doomed and all) sounded pretentious, melodramatic, and Kyle-like. But, ironically, it was one of the only things in his life that he wasn't very theatrical about. He talked to a therapist about it once (his fifth, not Wendy) and she suggested that perhaps he didn't feel the need to flaunt his prematurely discovered tragedy because it was something that he truly believed in.
His cell phone went off, causing the entire surface of his desk to vibrate. The caller ID said it was Kenny, but Kyle could've guessed that himself. The only people who actually had his private mobile number other than Kenny were his parents, Ike, and Wendy.
"Are you at the airport?" was his greeting.
Muffled voices and distortion was the response he got.
"Hello? Kyle, it's me, Kenny." Kenny's voice sounded very near and breathy at some parts of the conversation, and very distant in others.
"Yeah, I know. Are you at the airport yet?" Kyle pushed off the floor with his foot, causing his chair to spin in place.
"Actually, that's what I wanted to talk about." Kyle's foot came down, halting the spin.
"Look, Kenny, I've got enough going on right now without you messing things up. Now, tell me you're at the airport."
"I'm at the airport?"
"Okay, chill! Something came up, all right? Um, I'm not going to be able to make it on time."
"What?! What the fuck is more important than picking up your nephew?"
A brief pause.
"Remember how I mentioned the bar job might involve some—"
"No. You didn't mention anything about your new bar job involving anything but serving beer to scraggily old men at 2 in the morning."
"Oh. Well. It's a little shadier than I initially expected."
"Also, you're going to need to up pick up what's-his-name."
"Are you crazy? I can't just go to the airport right now."
"Why not? That school you work at is in Denver, isn't it? You're like right next to it."
"No I'm not!"
"Compared to me you are."
"Ugh. I can't do this, Kenny. I have a job. I have lectures and papers."
"Just ditch them."
"I'm the only one making money! How're we supposed support ourselves and your sister's kid with you off doing God-knows-what and me leaving work in the middle of the day?"
"You're right, Kyle. Just leave Aaron at the airport. He'll get picked up by some pedophile, so that takes care of him, and we'll have one less person to worry about."
Kyle hung up the phone and stared into space. He tried to make sense of the situation, and then he realized that trying to make sense of anything recently only produced hangover headaches and no answers. He pulled on his coat and headed out to his car. Nobody bothered to sign up for any of his lectures, anyway.
It was 2:45PM by the time Kyle actually got to the arrivals gate. He briefly scanned the room before making a beeline toward a booth that read "HELP" on top of it in multiple languages. Behind the counter, a prettyish woman with straight blonde hair and laugh lines greeted him.
"Can I help you, sir?" The valley accent caused Kyle to cringe a little.
"Yes, um, I'm here to pick up a minor? I missed his arrival... at 2."
"Mhmm-hmm. Flight number?"
"From Nevada to Colorado?"
Her long red fingernails, the same exact shade of her lipstick, clacked along the keys.
"And what's the minor's name?"
"Mhmm-hmm. I need the last name too, sir."
Kyle coughed into his sleeve, sniffed, and drummed his fingers against the table.
"Eric... McCormick?" He really wished she would at least make a facial expression.
"Mhmm-hmm. I'm sorry, sir, but there isn't an Eric McCormick on the roster for that flight."
Kyle rubbed the back of his head and smiled in what he hoped was a charming, sheepish manner. It never even occurred to him that Karen might have gotten married. Or changed her last name. Or both.
"Um, well, you see, he's actually my roommate's nephew, and he—uh, my roommate, was supposed to come pick him up. But then something, um, happened and..." The woman was not impressed, and Kyle quickly tried to wrap it up before she lost all her patience: "The point is, uh, I don't exactly know what his last name is."
She raised an eyebrow and grabbed the receiver of a phone from underneath the table. She talked in hushed tones, with her hand cupped around her mouth, and looked at Kyle with flashing eyes. Finally, she set down the phone.
"A boy named Eric Cartman was on that flight, and he's the only minor who hasn't been picked up by an adult."
"That's probably him. Just tell me where he is and I'll take it from there."
The woman's upper lip tightened.
"He's being held in custody at the moment. Security will escort him out."
Upon that statement, a high pitched squeal was heard from across the floor. Both of them looked to see a rather bulky security guard dragging an obese child with one hand. The guard's sausage fingers barely fit around the boy's thick upper arm.
"Ay! Let go of me!" cried the boy in the most obnoxious voice Kyle had ever heard in his life. Eric's face looked like a giant tomato, and behind him he was carrying a single black rolling suitcase. The security guard reached the desk, and by that time they managed to gather quite a few on-lookers.
"This your kid?" the security guard asked. Kyle lost his ability to string a coherent sentence together. Eric peered up at him through steely blue eyes, suddenly silenced.
"Yes," he croaked out when he realized almost an entire airport was waiting for his answer. The security guard pushed the boy toward Kyle.
"What about procedure?" piped up Ms. Blonde. The security guard scowled.
"Fuck procedure. If he wants the little fucker he can have him."
Kyle and Eric stared at each other, with horror and with wide-eyed curiosity, respectively.
"We should get going," Kyle said lamely. Eric obediently followed Kyle to his car. They put the bag into the trunk and Kyle got into the driver's side and Eric into the passenger's. Kyle avoided looking at him, but he did manage to steal a few quick glances from his peripheral vision. Eric's body was round and full of itself. His fat didn't melt off his body in rolls, rather, it stayed firm in its bubble-shape. Kyle couldn't believe this boy came out of Karen, or that he had any relation to the McCormicks at all. Those kids, that entire family, they were all so twiggy and small. The wind and the cold blew right threw them. This boy was built like a brick house.
"Are you my uncle?" Eric asked after they got out of the airport parking lot and began driving on the highway. Kyle almost laughed at the absurdity of the question.
"No, I'm Kyle," he clarified. Eric blinked.
"Okay, Kahl. Who are you?" Kyle couldn't tell if Eric was making fun of him or if he had a legitimate speech impediment.
"I live with your uncle. You're going to be staying in our house. You, me, your uncle; we're all going to be living together. "
Eric leaned back into his seat.
"That's faggy. Are you and my uncle butt-fucking each other or something?"
Kyle gripped the steering wheel. How was he was he even supposed to respond to that? Smacking Eric so hard across the face that the little porker's teeth fell out seemed like an appropriate reaction, but it just didn't feel right somehow. Disciplining someone else's kid would always be a tricky business, not that Kyle would know.
"No, Kenny and I are roommates. Just roommates. ... And, I have a girlfriend," he added as an afterthought. "And Kenny has..." He trailed off awkwardly. He didn't quite know what Kenny had, much less how to explain it to a 10-year-old. Eric wasn't interested either way.
"I'm hungry," he declared. Kyle turned his head and looked at the boy directly for the first time since they got in the car.
"I'll make you something when we get home." Kyle liked cooking when he was stressed. It gave him something to focus on.
Eric kicked his feet a little and pouted.
"But I'm hungry nooooow..."
Kyle gritted his teeth.
"You'll eat when we get home."
Eric pursed his lips. He crossed his arms and rested his head against the window, his warm breath fogging up the glass. He didn't move or talk for the rest of the drive. Kyle didn't think much of it at first, but after they exited Denver and began driving on that small stretch of land that led to South Park, Kyle looked over to Eric and saw something that made his stomach drop. Eric's blue eyes were sharp and alight with a familiar glint. Brooding and intelligent, they flickered over trees and rocks and snow, absorbing every small detail. As the aged sign that had "South Park" painted on it came into focus, the corners of Eric's lips turned upward into a mischievous grin.
Kyle couldn't say that he didn't see the resemblance now, but Eric's smile was far more malicious then Kenny's ever was, and his eyes held more hatred and contempt then he ever remembered Karen having.
Kenny wasn't home when Kyle and Eric arrived. This annoyed Kyle because it meant that on top of picking him up from the airport, he had to help Eric get adjusted. By himself.
"Well, this is the house," Kyle announced as he resisted the urge to slam the door in Eric's face. Eric walked in without taking his shoes off, tracking slushy snow onto the carpet. Kyle expected some sort of smart remark, an expression of disgust perhaps, but Eric remained neutral as he examined the couch he didn't yet know he'd be sleeping on.
Kyle cleared his throat. "Eric, here in South Park we take off our shoes and coats at the door so we don't ruin the flooring." Kyle gestured toward his own bare feet and the puddle trailing behind Eric. Eric seemed to contemplate something for a moment before making the decision to take off his boots and leave them by the entrance.
"Where's my room?" he asked when he noticed the stairs.
Kyle clapped his hands together. "Oh! I nearly forgot your surprise!"
Eric practically whirled around to face Kyle, who made his way toward the couch.
"You get the pleasure of—oof." Kyle's elbows shook as he attempted to unfold the mattress from the couch. "...Of sleeping on our brand-new pull-out bed!" The mattress legs hit the floor. Kyle couldn't help the genuine smile that crept across his face when he heard Eric mumble a soft, "awww, weak" under his breath. It was at this precise moment, of course, that Kenny decided to make his grand entrance. The wood creaked and the door nearly flew off its hinges as it swung open.
"Kyle," he said. "You wouldn't believe the day I had today." Kyle didn't want to hear about the fucking day Kenny had, and he hoped to communicate this through the intense waves of annoyance he was radiating.
"Well, it's nice of you to finally come home," Kyle bitched.
Kenny was so used to Kyle's sarcastic whine that he didn't even hear it anymore. He went on, moving his hands up and down in exaggerated motions as he spoke, until Kyle's pupils were so narrow that not even a needle could have fit through them. Eric didn't say a word. When Kyle turned his head to deliver his signature scoff (a favorite of Kenny's), he was startled to find Eric staring at them in an almost scientific manner.
Blood rushed to Kyle's face.
"Oh, by the way," Kyle snapped as he pulled Eric between them, "this is your nephew. How nice of you to introduce yourself."
From the way Kenny stepped back with his eyebrows shooting up to his hairline, one would have thought that Kyle had hauled a gun out. It was rather hilarious, in Kyle's opinion, to watch as the tiny muscles in Kenny's face twitched and rippled as he fought to control his expression.
"Eric," Kenny said, attempting to sound casual. "It's, um, really nice to meet you."
Eric clasped his hands behind his back and balanced on the balls of his feet. His round face was apple-cheeked and innocent, and Kyle realized with disgust that Eric now looked more like a cuddly bear than the fat fuck who had sat in the passenger seat of Kyle's car barely a half hour ago. Fortunately, Kenny wasn't easily swayed by batting blue eyes.
"Are you my uncle?" Eric asked. Kyle could have sworn somebody stuck an icicle up Kenny's ass the moment those words left Eric's sugary lips.
"Yes," he answered cautiously. Eric's arms were around Kenny's waist in a millisecond, his face buried in a vestige of cigarette smoke. Kenny's hands and elbows shot up to the height of his shoulders, and he looked down the length of his body in panic and confusion.
Kyle's mouth went dry as he stared at them. The top of Eric's head reached just below Kenny's ribcage, and despite Eric's massive body, Kyle couldn't help but notice how small he looked in that moment. Kyle usually avoided places like parks or family restaurants, and he generally didn't get too friendly with co-workers who had children. He preferred late-night dining at expensive bars in his free time. He didn't have much in common with people who were raising kids. This was what he always told himself. But as Kyle stared at that extended hug, he mused that he was five inches shorter then Kenny, and wondered how far the top Eric's head would reach if Eric were to hug him.
The tension in Kenny's arms began to lessen and they lowered until his hands rested on Eric's shoulders. He pushed forward, practically peeling Eric's body off his own. Eric kept on smiling, hardly offended by Kenny's lack of affection. Kyle speculated that Eric was actually getting more of a kick out of Kenny's discomfort than Kyle himself was. Eric must have thought himself clever, acting so vulnerable in the face of new guardians. Maybe it was because kids were bad at hiding their true intentions. Maybe it was because Kyle was especially observant. Either way, to Kyle, every move Eric made seemed to just drip with malicious motive. It was easy to spot a lie when you'd spent your whole life telling them, and if there was one thing Kyle was good at, it was burying the truth until the only thing he had left were the feeble threads he used to fabricate his pathetic existence.
"Kyle, don't you and Eric need to talk about something?" Kenny was desperate, but Kyle didn't mind letting him simmer in his awkwardness just a little while longer.
"Nope." He walked into the kitchen and picked up a faded paperback cookbook placed on top of the microwave and then he retreated to his room. His bed looked about as welcoming as it always had, and Kyle plopped down on it and rested his head against the wall. His feet dangled off the side of the bed toward his door and vanity mirror. Kyle looked forward to a night of planning out a week's worth of cooked meals and then writing a meticulously crafted grocery list. He could shop for the ingredients over the weekend. Kyle was about to uncap a pen before he heard heavy feet rushing up the stairs. Eric's distorted face appeared in the doorway.
"You're sending me to school?"
"Not me, Eric. Besides, there's no way you can stay home all day. You'll fall behind. What would your mother say if that happened?" Kyle leaned back and flipped through the pages, never once looking up at Eric. Kyle's anticipation of this conversation made his words sound insipid and rehearsed.
"This is so unfair! I'm still grieving!"
"Oh, please. Don't make it sound like somebody died."
"I... I grew up in that house!"
"Well, you have until Monday to get over it. And in a few months, you'll have a new house to grow up in."
Eric stormed out of the room, and Kyle had no doubt that he had just made himself Eric's number-one enemy. Kyle circled his first recipe of the evening after dotting the pen's ballpoint tip on his tongue.
Kyle ate alone in his classroom. He was contemplating whether Ruffles might go well with the vegan meatloaf he'd made when it struck him that it had been over a week since he'd last spoken to Wendy. She always bought her food in the cafeteria; therefore, she was the one responsible for bringing the coffee, the soda, the chips, the chocolate, and the paper napkins. Kyle didn't feel guilty about forgetting Wendy, not really, but he was slightly unnerved by the fact that he didn't notice her absence.
He entertained the idea of walking across campus to see if she was in her room, but he was never really good about keeping straight which days she was at school and which days she spent in her office. Calling her seemed like the logical choice. He tried both her cell and office number, only to reach her voice mail each time. Her house phone was the only option left. It rang three, four, five times, and just as Kyle began wondering if she was murdered by a deranged client, she answered the phone.
"Hello?" Her voice was distant and breathy, as if she had just woken up. Kyle glanced at the clock at the back of the room.
"Hi, it's me."
"Mmmm. ... Wait, Kyle?" Wendy's voice rose and chimed like a fire alarm. There was rustling on the other end, and Kyle pictured her going from drowsy to alert in a matter of seconds.
"Yeah. So were you sick or something? Because I haven't seen you around."
Wendy's response was delayed, but Kyle could still hear movement.
"No, I... I told you not to call this number unless it was an emergency!" Wendy' volume was slightly hushed, causing the annoyance in her tone to seem a lot less threatening.
"I tried your cell, but you didn't answer. I haven't seen you in forever."
"...I know. I've just been busy."
They fell into a silence, which Kyle found odd because Wendy always had something to say.
"I was thinking you could come over to dinner and meet Eric," Kyle offered before immediately wishing he could grab the words out of the air and shove them back into his mouth.
"Of course I want to come! You know how badly I want to know what he looks like." Again, her words seemed restrained. Her excitement was bottled, and she didn't dare let it bubble over the rim.
"Is there someone over there with you?"
"No. No one's here but me and Jeremy." Jeremy was the one-eyed cat Wendy had adopted from a shelter. It was five minutes until Kyle's lecture, and a few students trickled into his classroom.
"Okay. I guess I'll see you soon. I'll call you about the details later."
"All right, bye."
Kyle hung up.
"This is perfect."
Kyle started at the back of Kenny's head.
Kenny was sitting on a stool facing the giant vanity mirror he had in his room. This meant he was facing away from Kyle, who was leaning on the doorway with his arms crossed. Kenny smiled and their eyes met in their reflections.
"I said, 'this is perfect.' "
Kyle shifted his weight.
"I don't get it. I thought you hated Wendy."
"Oh, I do. But that doesn't mean I can't still take advantage of an opportunity when I see one."
"Yeah, well, you'd better leave Wendy out of whatever you're planning."
Kenny turned around.
"Hey, you don't need to get all defensive. Despite what your girlfriend told you, I'm not such a bad guy. You know me, so don't let her..."
Kyle interrupted. "She doesn't think you're a bad guy. She just thinks you have bad ideas. You're always getting yourself into trouble."
Kenny frowned. "All I'm saying is that she isn't all rainbows and unicorn breath, either."
Kyle collapsed on Kenny's bed. "Are you going to tell me what's up or not?"
Kenny legitimately thought about the question, which made Kyle want to roll his eyes. Kenny was never the type to let the contempt of others weigh on his heart, and it annoyed Kyle that Kenny often made such a fuss about forgiving people when everyone knew he couldn't hold a grudge.
"Okay," Kenny finally said.
Kyle sat up.
"Look, Eric's been having some trouble making friends at school-"
"I'm not surprised."
Kenny gave Kyle a look before he continued: "But there's this one kid he talks about sometimes, and I think they hit it off or something. Like, sometimes they hang out, I think."
"That's great. Also, I have no idea where you're going with this."
"I was thinking we could invite him over for dinner too."
Kyle let the statement process. He searched Kenny's face, trying to find any indication that this was a practical joke. "What? Why?!"
"What do you mean, 'why'? We should meet him! And... I don't know, encourage the relationship."
"Since when do you care about Eric's 'relationships'?"
Kenny's face hardened. "I've cared ever since my 10-year-old nephew moved in with me."
"Oh, quit it with that bleeding-heart bullshit. You couldn't wait to pawn that little brat off on me."
"All right, so I haven't done a real good job, I admit it. But come on, Kyle. Eric's life sucks right now. He doesn't have a home, he's living with two weirdos he's never met before, and he's the new kid. We're better than just letting him deal with it on his own."
God, Kenny always had to be such a hero. It made Kyle want to punch him in the face sometimes.
"Okay, fine. We'll do the stupid dinner."
Kenny smiled, and that was that.
The trick to delicious Hungarian goulash was paprika, according to the recipe card Kyle had printed out. Kyle's sleeves were rolled up to his forearms, and he wore a peach-colored apron to protect the dress shirt he wore underneath. Pots surrounded him in the cubby-sized kitchen. There were no windows, and with only a single fan above the stove to reduce the steam, the room soon became a sauna. Moist air and sweat accumulated on Kyle's forehead, causing red hair to stick and fall into his eyes. Just as Kyle had brought the ladle up to his lips to taste his concoction, the doorbell rang.
"Will somebody get that?" he called out to the house before he went back to stirring. The doorbell rang again.
"Eric! Kenny! The door!"
Three rings in quick succession caused Kyle to nearly burn a finger.
"Do I need to do everything around here?" he screamed as he undid his apron, crumpled it into a ball, and threw it onto a seat. Kyle practically stomped to the front door and the chill that flew in as he opened it caused every square inch of his body to erupt in goose bumps. The whiteness outside nearly blinded him. For a moment he actually thought there was no one at the door, but glancing down revealed that the person was merely shorter than Kyle had expected.
An elementary-aged boy stared up at Kyle. He had black hair sticking out from underneath a knitted hat, dark blue eyes, and pale skin tinted pink from the cold. There was nothing particularly remarkable about him, but the effeminate features that some boys tended to have at that age made him seem almost pretty, like one of those kids whose photograph was stuck in a picture frame before it was purchased, only for the buyer to later discover that the frame wasn't nearly as nice with his own child's photo in it.
"What do you want?" Kyle meant to snap this statement, but his voice came out sounding strained and tight instead.
"Um, does Eric live here?" His voice was deeper than Kyle expected.
"Yes, an Eric Cartman does live here."
"Cool. I'm Stan Marsh. He invited me over, so here I am I guess."
"Oh. We weren't expecting you until dinner time."
They stared at each other, neither sure what to do or say. Kyle was still shivering and the snow around Stan's feet began to melt.
"I think something's burning in there," Stan said after what seemed like twelve lifetimes. This brought Kyle's attention away from Stan and to the distinct smoky smell that was filling the house. Kyle rushed into the kitchen, but not before shouting, "Damn it!" at the top of his lungs. Stan took this opportunity to step inside the house.
Kyle lifted the lid off of every boiling pot and pan in sight in his attempt to discover what was burning. The soup was fine, the potatoes were fine, the vegetables were fine, and even the sauce that was meant to be drizzled over an already-baked lamb was cooking to perfection. What could possibly be causing that smell? Kyle's eyes widened as he was struck with realization. He made a dive for the oven.
"Not the cream puffs," Kyle whined as he took out the baking pan. What were supposed to be light and flaky pastries looked like broken pieces of coal. Kyle mourned his loss as he tossed them into the trashcan, wishing he could jump in as well.
"Wow, that sucks."
Kyle lifted his gaze. Stan was sitting on a dining chair, his feet dangling beneath him. He watched Kyle with a casual lightheartedness, which was, as Kyle would soon learn, Stan's general demeanor. The skin on Stan's face was smooth (untouched by the wrinkles of damaging stress or discomfort) and his eyes were as clear as glass (frangible and effortless to see through).
Kyle felt his ears get warm.
"My mom makes really good cookies. I can show you sometime, if you want. They're really easy."
Stan's offer was well-intended, but he didn't seem too keen on following up on it as he stood up and peeked under the lids of steaming pots. Stan treated each one as a treasure chest, like he thought he might find pearls or emeralds inside instead of just boiling carrots. Kyle stared at him, not used to the glorious curiosity of children.
"Hey, it's really hot in here," Stan said suddenly. He took off his hat and undid the buttons of his jacket. The movement caused Kyle to hone in on those fidgeting fingers. They reminded him of Eric's fingers, except less puffy and more nimble. They were quick and clumsy and adorable. Kyle imagined Stan at school, typing and writing and scribbling charming little doodles in the margins of math homework.
"Where is Eric, anyway?"
Kyle tore his eyes away. The mention of the fatass's name just ruined any good mood that happened to fall over him. He turned around and went back to cooking. The floor tiles were so cheap that he could feel vibrations every time Stan took a step.
"I don't know, actually. I think he and Kenny might have gone somewhere."
"Oh yeah, I remember. Kenny is Eric's uncle, right? He talks a lot about him at school."
The pace of the stirring increased.
"Oh, really? Did he say anything about me?"
Stan plopped down on the chair again.
"Hmmm... I don't think so. He did mention once that he found a Star of David in your dresser, and that pissed him off or something. ... I don't care about that though!" Stan quickly added. "I mean, people should be free to believe in whatever they want to believe in. Even though it's a little weird that Jewish people don't celebrate Christmas."
Kyle turned around.
"Jewish people celebrate Chanukah though!"
"It's like Christmas, but it lasts eight days. We even get presents."
Stan tilted his head to the side and pursed his lips.
"Okay, I guess that's kind of cool. Really cool, actually."
For the next half hour, Kyle finished up the meal he was making. Stan went on about his dog, Sparky, and about how he thought that each animal spoke its own language. Kyle soaked up each word as if every syllable that left Stan's lips was a new Commandment.
Eric ran into the kitchen.
"What are you doing here so early?" He pointed a finger at Stan, who crossed his arms.
"Well, you didn't tell me what time to come so I just came whenever I felt like."
Kyle was fascinated by the change in Stan's tone. It reached a peak of agitation that he never imagined the boy could possess, and it made him hate Eric for so easily provoking it.
Eric's face reddened. "Whatever, hippie."
"Screw you, fa—" Stan halted mid-sentence and promptly clamped his mouth shut. "I need to go to the bathroom," he said instead.
Kyle stood up. "I can show you where it is."
Kenny intervened as he walked in. "Sit back down, Kyle. Eric can show his friend around the house."
Eric made a sound of protest, but Kenny gave him a look. They glared at each other for a good five seconds before Eric mumbled a defeated, "fine." Eric left the room with Stan following close behind. Kyle lingered on Stan's form until he was out of sight before crossing his arms.
"Where have you been?"
"Eric and I went shopping for a sleeping bag." Kenny was pleased with himself.
"Because my old one was a tight fit?"
"Fuck, Kenny. What the hell did you buy him a sleeping bag for?"
"I don't know, he said he wanted one for the sleepover."
"What sleepover? Kenny!"
Kenny heaved a great sigh. "I just thought it would be fun for the two of them if Stan stayed the night."
Kyle threw his arms into the air.
"I live here too! Why doesn't anyone ever discuss these things with me?"
"Because every time I want to discuss anything remotely Eric-related, you always bail with some kind of excuse!" Kenny caught himself yelling and glanced into the living room. With no sign of the boys, he folded the screen door shut. He turned back with his facial expression more controlled.
"If you're worried about Stan, don't be. He's a nice kid."
Kyle huddled into the dining chair. "I'm not worried about Stan causing any trouble."
Kenny gripped his hips as if he were restraining himself from lashing out. "I just don't get you, Kyle. When we were kids, everyone used to make fun of me for being poor. You were the first one to defend me. When we got older, no one would give me a job because all the adults thought I was on drugs. You convinced your dad to get me a part-time-job, filing. Hell, even today people still give me weird looks. My entire life, you were the only one who ever gave a rat's ass about me. But for some goddamn reason you can't look past the resistance of some crude little kid."
"That's different. You were misunderstood. Eric's just mean-spirited."
"You're never going to know that for sure unless you give him a chance. Sure, he's spoiled, but that doesn't make him rotten. Maybe he's just acting like this because it's his way of dealing with whatever happened to him."
"Thanks, but I usually like to leave the psychoanalysis to Wendy."
Kenny chewed on his bottom lip. "When's she getting here anyway?"
Kyle glanced at the clock.
"In an hour or so?"
Kenny walked out of the room to take out the sleeping bag from the trunk of his car.
Wendy was always prompt to any appointment she made. Whether it was a lecture, a session, or a birthday party, she always timed her arrival down to the very minute. This was why Kyle was already at the door when a knock sounded at 6 o'clock sharp.
"Kyle!" Wendy wrapped her arms around Kyle's neck and planted a firm kiss on his lips. Gagging noises and a wolf whistle caused Kyle to push away.
"I don't think I've seen you this happy to see Kyle since... ever," Kenny said. Wendy offered him a tart smile.
"I'm always happy to see Kyle, Kenny." Her eyes landed on Stan and Eric, who immediately stopped their snickering.
"Well," she said cheerfully. "You must be Eric." She tussled Stan's hair. "You're the spitting image of your mother!"
A trained trooper, Stan stayed perfectly still as a he waited for the torture to end.
"Actually, Wendy, that would be Stan who you have in your clutches," Kenny piped up. "This one is Eric."
Wendy's lips stretched even further. "My mistake, dear. Anyway, I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm starving!"
The household shuffled into the dining room, and when they were all seated, Kyle served them each a small bowl of soup. Eric practically inhaled his portion and complained that he wanted more until Kenny finally told Kyle to serve the second course.
They ate in silence until Wendy decided that she'd had enough of it. "Well, isn't this lovely! My compliments to the chef." Wendy laughed at her own little quip as she gave a wink to Kyle, who was too busy staring into his wine to notice. Wendy continued her endeavor to incite conversation. "I see that Stan doesn't share my opinion." She smiled at Stan, who froze up. He had been caught, guilty of transporting his own lamb piece by piece onto Eric's plate, who greedily devoured every last bite.
Kyle's head snapped up. "You don't like it, Stan?" Kyle began playing with the dining cloth in his lap as he stared across at the table.
Stan blushed. "Um, no, it's good. The sauce just tastes a little funny, that's all. Plus," he looked down at his plate sadly, "I keep picturing how this used to be a little sheep, and it makes me lose my appetite."
"Pussy," Eric coughed. Both Kyle and Stan gave him a dirty look.
Wendy addressed him with less aggression. "Now, Eric. There's nothing wrong with being a little sensitive."
Stan looked at her. "Hold on, I wouldn't go so far as to say I'm sensitive..."
Wendy shook her head. "There's no need to be ashamed. I myself am a cat-lover. I've rescued three in the last five years. One's living with me right now, but two of them unfortunately had to be... terminated due to illness. It absolutely broke my heart and it took me months to get over their passing." Wendy's spirits deflated and she took a long sip of wine.
Eric kept shoveling food into his mouth, but did so with less passion until he stopped completely. "We had to leave Mr. Kitty behind," was all he said.
Stan turned his head and examined his face. "Aw man. I'm sorry dude." Hesitantly, he brought his hand up to rest on Eric's shoulder. It took six seconds for Eric to finally shove it off. Kyle knew because he counted.
Kenny slammed his hands against the table, causing everyone to jump. "That's it, this is getting depressing. You two," he indicated to Stan and Eric, "drop your plates in the sink and get outta here. I'll make you some macaroni and cheese later."
They didn't need to be told twice. Kyle watched horrified as Stan slipped out of the kitchen faster than a man on fire. Eric lingered behind to stuff his face with as much food as his cheeks could hold, but he too left when he heard a familiar videogame tune being played out in the living room.
"I worked really hard on that dinner!" Kyle yelled once the children were out of earshot.
"Come on! They were obviously bored out of their minds eating here with us." Kenny looked rather bored out of his mind himself. Kyle wanted to tell him about Stan, about the great conversation they had all afternoon while he was gone. About how much Stan enjoyed his (Kyle's!) company. Instead, he talked about lamb sauce.
"That recipe got a five-star rating from the website I looked it up on! What could they possibly not like about it?"
"Don't be so offended, Kyle. They're just children. Their pallets probably aren't refined enough to appreciate the combination of flavors this particular dish has to offer." Wend poured herself a generous glass of wine, loosening up now that Stan and Eric were off entertaining themselves. "I personally thought it was delicious."
Kyle hated Wendy for bringing up dead cats in the middle of dinner. Kyle hated Kenny for sending everyone off with the promise of different food. Most of all, Kyle hated Eric for having Stan all to himself.
Kenny very rarely offered to do the dishes, so when he collected the plates and took them to the skink without a word, Kyle wasn't about to question his motives. Wendy had already left early, insisting that she didn't want to overstay her welcome. This was odd, considering that she usually spent the night.
When Kyle walked out into the living room he caught the last few words of a sentence Stan had finished. Stan and Eric had their sleeping bags rolled out a comfortable distance away from each other. The pull-out bed was folded up, and the sleeping bags were right up against the couch so both boys could lean back on it while watching TV. Kyle smiled.
"What are you two talking about?"
"Nothing." "The new Terrance and Philip movie," they answered in unison. Eric's and Stan's eyes met, and when he saw the look Eric gave him, Stan turned to Kyle as if he was expecting to get in trouble.
"Um, I mean..."
"You wouldn't know about it, Kahl. You don't like the shows that I watch," Eric interrupted.
Stan's shoulders fell from his ears back to their anatomical spot. "It's actually a pretty good show. I bet the movie is going to be awesome!" he declared.
"Wait, what was it called again? Terrance and Philip? Maybe I've heard of it."
"You should have." Kenny walked out of the kitchen, wiping his hand with the hem of his T-shirt. "Eric watches it every day after school."
Kyle's nose crinkled. "Well, I'm not home with Eric when his school finishes, so how would I know that?"
Kenny shrugged. "It's just one of those things, y'know?"
"Whatever! The point is, if I haven't seen it you can't just assume I won't like it."
"Yeah! Assuming makes an ass out of me... or, it goes something like that." Stan sucked in his cheeks until his lips puckered. Eric turned to him.
"That's something my mom used to say."
"What the hell are you talking about, dumbass?"
Stan hopped to his feet. "Don't call me a dumbass, fatass!"
"'Ey! I'm not fat, I'm big-boned! And you're the one who called yourself an ass!"
"Shut up, Cartman!"
The momentum of the argument came to a halt. Kyle's outburst hung in the air.
Kenny looked to Kyle, and his features knotted into a questioning look. Stan looked to Eric awkwardly. He took a small step away from Kyle.
"Um, yeah, you too, Stan! Both of you need to just shut up!" Kenny added in hopes of preserving the neutrality of the adults. His index finger penetrated the air. "You," he point to Eric, "are fat. And you," his finger moved on to Stan, "are dumb. Move one with your lives."
Stan mumbled something under his breath, but plopped back down to the ground nonetheless. Both his legs and arms were crossed, and he glared at Eric from underneath his bangs. "I'm okay," he confirmed.
"Me too." Eric and Stan glowered at each other.
"Good!" Kenny beamed. His hands wrapped around Kyle's wrists and he began dragging him upstairs. "Now you two behave yourselves! No funny business!" he called as he forced Kyle up each step.
Once Kyle and Kenny were standing outside their respective bedroom doors, Kyle pried his limb out of Kenny's grasp.
"Let go of me already! And 'funny business'? What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
Kenny's hand flapped. "Oh, you know. Anything two ten-year-old boys can come up with."
Kyle squirmed. "What exactly do you think they're going to try?"
Kenny read Kyle's face and the light tone he had been speaking with hardened into disgust. "Jesus Christ, Kyle! Sure as hell nothing like that! ...Well, at least they better not."
Kyle's jaw went slack and Kenny took this opportunity to shove him into Kyle's bedroom.
"Don't worry about it; I'll make sure nothing happens. Just, don't go downstairs. You've been PMSing all night, and to tell you the truth, it's a little weird."
"I have not!" Kyle stomped his foot.
Kenny quirked an eyebrow. "Yeah, right. So, um, try and keep the moodiness within this general vicinity."
"What, so now I'm a prisoner in my own house?"
"Of course not! You have your laptop up here, your work stuff... grade papers or something. You're always bitching about not having enough time for that. Or better yet, do what normal human beings do after 10 and go to sleep."
Kyle sat down on his bed. "And what are you going to do? I thought the TV in your bedroom doesn't work anymore."
Kenny just smiled. "Don't worry. The real sexy ones stay classy and only pose for print."
By the time Kyle shriveled up in disgust Kenny had already slammed the door shut.
Kyle was left staring into space, his cramped room suddenly feeling foreign to him. His spirit seemed to steam out of every pore, like heat floating upwards from the ground once night had fallen. His laptop was too far to reach and the blood in his body too heavy and thick to allow any movement. He collapsed back onto his bed. Kyle closed his eyes and concentrated. He pictured the layout of the house in perfect detail. He tried to see through walls, tried to imagine the boys downstairs, what they were doing. Kyle was gifted with many abilities, but apparently clairvoyance wasn't one of them. He opened his eyes and his legs twitched with the desire to go downstairs.
Kenny's advice echoed in his mind.
Sleep, sleep, sleep... but how could Kyle sleep when the only thing separating him from Stan was a thin layer of plaster and wood? How could he sleep when he knew Eric was with Stan, annoying him, talking to him, basking in his attention without even being thankful for it? Stan was too good for Eric. Stan was too good for any of them, really; Kyle just deserved him the most. Kyle needed someone like Stan. He'd only known him for a day, but Kyle knew Stan was special. Kyle could always recognize someone as innocently sincere as Stan; he could spot a person like that among the masses from a mile away.
They were leader-types with many friends willing to play catch with them. They were the ones who would shamelessly stop a person to pet his or her dog while the other kids were in the yard, torturing cats. They were the ones who sat near windows so they could find the space to get lost in. They were the first to wonder if they'd done something wrong, and they were also the first to take responsibility when they saw tears. They painted pictures and played tag, so absorbed in the goodness of the world that they didn't even notice Kyle. Kyle was too tall, too awkward, too damn empty to fit into such a fantastic universe.
Happy children are always the cruelest.
Kyle flopped to his side like a dead animal. His eyes were open again. The only source of light in the room leaked in from underneath the door crack, an indication that someone was roaming the halls. It killed Kyle that it could be Stan.
Kyle stretched his arms out toward his nightstand, tired of thinking. In the drawer, he fished through various items until his finger wrapped around a bottle of expired sleeping pills. He shook the bottle above his face and swallowed the amount of pills that fell into his mouth without bothering with a glass of water or a glance at the dosage. He tossed the bottle back into its place. The dark outlines of the room began to melt into one another, and the next thing he knew, it was daylight. The alarm clock told (or more like screamed, with its glaring red numbers) Kyle that it was 11:46AM.
Kyle had trouble remembering where he was and why he was still fully dressed, but these concerns were reduced once he realized he was hungry as fuck. He got up and stumbled a bit, finding his balance and the doorknob simultaneously. The staircase in the hallway posed as a considerable challenge, but Kyle soon found that gripping the walls and walking very, very slowly kept him from falling over the rails and cracking his skull open.
"Well, well, look finally decided to wake up."
Kyle lifted his eyelids to see Kenny in the kitchen. He was sitting in a chair, balancing it on its hind legs. His calves were propped up on the corner of the dining table, at an angle. A newspaper was folded over his lap and he held a dry piece toast between his fingers.
Kyle moaned and dropped into a seat next to Kenny before he thumped his face onto the wooden surface. "Why are you reading my newspaper?" Kyle's voice was muffled, so his question came out sounding more like an indistinguishable whine.
"Seeing as you decided to choose today of all days to sleep in since, what, the fifth grade? I was the only one left to suck it up and be the responsible adult."
"I felt the look wouldn't be complete without a newspaper and a pipe, but I only had an old pack of smokes on me, and what kind of example would that set for the kids?"
Kyle's head was up in an instant. "Kids?" The memories flooded back to him. "Wait, where's Stan?"
Kenny laughed. "Dude, you look completely shitfaced. What the hell did you do after I left last night?"
Kyle attempted to mat down the scarlet bird's nest that happened to be rooted into his scalp. His eyes darted to and fro in their frantic quest to find a black-haired little boy.
"Oh, would you relax? They're both gone."
"What do you mean, 'they're both gone'? Where the hell else could they be?"
Kenny rolled his eyes. "Fuck, Kyle, I wasn't about to cook for them. I gave them a 20 and told them to find themselves breakfast."
"You mean you sent him away?!"
"...What? No! They went together. Jeez, I have more class then that."
Kyle went into the living room. There were no signs of sleeping bags. "Stan... Stan is not coming back today, is he?"
Kenny tossed the newspaper onto the couch. "Nope. At least, not if we're lucky," he said as he made his way up the stairs.
The lack of urinals was unfamiliar to Kyle, but he was quite used to the horror and shock-stricken faces of young ladies who found him in the women's bathroom by the time the fifth girl wandered in and promptly left with a silent scream still forming at the corners of her mouth. Kyle sighed and imagined the rumors that were being invented about him at that very moment.They were probably spreading across campus like a contagious disease. A wet, gurgling noise forced him out of his thoughts and he peeked into the stall in front of him.
Wendy's black hair created a stark, noirish contrast against the stark- white toilet. Part of Kyle wanted to reach out and pull the strands back and out of the way as she vomited, but Kyle couldn't bring himself to touch her. Her dark locks looked so faded, so stringy and aged when compared to...
Wendy moaned. Kyle stepped forward and patted her on the shoulder.
"So, um, will you be finished soon?" he asked. He heard Wendy spit before she answered.
"How soon is 'soon'?" Her voice sounded torn and raw.
"Like, now-ish?" Kyle wondered if Wendy had any friends who weren't assholes who could have come with her and comforted her. Her shoulder blades popped through her blouse as she gave another heave.
She spat again.
"You can leave, Kyle," she mumbled weakly. "If you want to."
Kyle's toes tingled as if he were standing on a bed of needles. His legs moved toward the door on their own accord, but he still had the presence of mind to ask her if she was sure she didn't want him to stay. Vomit splashing against the toilet water was his only response. He ducked out of the bathroom as quickly as he could, and a person slammed square into his chest. He thought it was another girl, but when he stepped back, he saw a rather boyish, familiar face staring back up at him.
"Oh, its you."
It was that blond boy that he saw tailing Wendy sometimes. One of her students, apparently. He couldn't remember the poor kid's name for the life of him. Buttery, was it? Perhaps Marjorine? Something like that... The last one sounded a bit girlish, but it fit him somehow.
"U-Um, have you seen Wendy around?"
Kyle raised his eyebrows.
"Do you mean Dr. Testaburger?"
"O-o-oh! Of course that's what I meant! I just saw her, I-I mean, I heard she got sick!"
The blonde boy kept fiddling with his thumbs, and Kyle realized that he was still waiting for an answer.
"She's in there, by the way," Kyle said and he jabbed his thumb over his shoulder. Blue eyes looked around Kyle's frame and a blush erupted from his collarbone straight up to his ears when he saw Kyle was indicating the woman's bathroom.
"S-she's in there?"
Kyle's patience was diminishing rapidly. "That's what I said." Kyle's arm brushed against Butters' as he stepped around the boy's frigid body. He was halfway down the hall when he heard a door open and close behind him. He wasn't curious enough to turn around.
"Y'know, I noticed you've been hanging around at home a lot more often than you used to."
Kyle lifted his eyes from his laptop. He was browsing the web, not looking at anything in particular, and sitting at the kitchen table. Kenny sat across from him, drinking a beer, and the folding doors were open just enough to see flickering lights emitting from the television in the darkened living room. Kyle looked back to the screen.
"What do you mean by that?"
Kenny just shrugged and took a swing of his beer. "Don't know. You just don't usually hang out around here Saturday nights."
"Hm. Well, neither do you."
Kenny laughed and headed toward the fridge. It actually had food in it these days.
"So did Wendy finally break up with you?"
"No. She's been sick. I haven't talked with her in a few days." That part was true, at least.
They fell into a comfortable silence, the only sounds in the kitchen being Kenny shuffling through the fridge and the muffled voices of people taking from the TV.
"I kind of like the change," Kenny said out of nowhere.
Kenny sat back down and nibbled on a Pop-Tart. "Things have felt... different since Eric came around. Like, I have a reason to stay home."
Kyle slammed his laptop down. "Yeah, because if you leave him alone he'll probably burn the house down."
"That's not what I meant."
Kyle's frustration rose a bit when Kenny snapped at him. He wasn't mad at Kenny per se, just the things he was doing. Wasn't it Kenny who avoided children at all costs? Wasn't it Kenny who never wanted any commitments? What made Eric so goddamn special?
"Don't look at me like that. I was just kidding. I get what you mean." Kyle really was being honest. He felt a change, too. And it was because of Eric, or at least, thanks to him.
A smile broke through the cracks of Kenny's anger. "Hey, no chick-flick moments!"
Kyle smiled back at him, even though he wasn't the one blushing and looking like he wanted nothing more than a great big hug. Kenny was like that sometimes.
The shrill sound of a telephone ended the moment.
Eric's head poked through gap in the folding doors and his body followed.
"I'll get it!" he screamed over the ringing as he rushed to the phone. Kyle cringed when Eric's Cheezy Poof-stained fingers grabbed the receiver. If Kyle found another orange crumb he swore he'd throw every last bag of the stuff out the window.
"Hello?" The excitement in Eric's eyes faded as the person on the other end started talking. Dejectedly, he held the phone out for Kenny.
"It's for you."
Kenny pursed his lips as he slowly stood and took the phone from Eric.
"Hello? ... Oh. Oh! Hi!"
Holding the phone to his ear with his shoulder, Kenny ushered an annoyed Kyle and a spiritless Eric out into the living room and snapped the folding doors closed. Kyle whirled around and attempted to glare holes through the wall while Eric went back to his bed, which usually stayed folded out unless there was company.
Kyle turned around. Eric didn't even acknowledge Kyle's existence as he stared at the TV and systematically stuffed chips into his mouth.
Kyle attempted his friendliest smile. "So, how's school going?"
Eric ignored him, which was an improvement from his usual response. Eric tended to simply raise the volume of the television whenever Kyle attempted to talk to him. Granted, that didn't occur very often. He didn't let his smile fall.
"Are you doing well in your classes?" Kyle licked his lips. "How are your friends?"
Eric turned to him. "What's it to you?"
Kyle shrugged. "Excuse me for trying to make a little conversation." Damn it! There had to be a way to get him to talk.
Light flooded into the room as the folding doors opened. Kenny stepped in, seemingly breathless. "I don't believe this!" His eyes practically glimmered.
"What is it?" Kyle asked.
"They looked over my resume, dude! At the bank! They want to interview me! Me. I've never had a legit place like this call me back before." Kenny's energy seemed to lift the room.
"No way!" said Kyle. "When's the interview?" A real smile replaced the fake one.
"I don't even—It's tomorrow at... 2." Kenny's grin faded and his eyes looked past Kyle. Kyle turned around and saw Eric, staring at them.
"Look, Eric, I know what I—" Kenny began, but Eric interrupted him.
"You promised," Eric said.
"Yeah, I know I promised, but you have to understand that—"
"You promised." Eric's voice was a bit strained the second time. He kept backing up, a little at a time, until he nearly fell off the bed. He looked behind him, and he suddenly reminded Kyle of a trapped animal. No room to retreat to. Eric glanced toward the staircase.
Kenny moved forward and his long shadow crawled up the walls. "Eric, just calm down for a second."
"Shut the fuck up and leave me alone!" Eric made a mad dash toward the stairs. He wobbled up each step, and once he was out of sight, Kyle and Kenny heard the bathroom door slam.
"Shit," Kenny mumbled under his breath as he sank to the floor. He ran his fingers through his hair. "I was getting so close, too."
Kyle crouched down next to him. "Dude, what the hell is going on?"
Kenny sighed. "I promised Eric that I would take him and Stan to the movies tomorrow. I didn't think it was that big a deal." His eyes flickered toward the ceiling. "But, apparently he was really looking forward to it... Damn it! I think I really fucked up this time, Kyle."
Kyle couldn't believe his luck. Luck could be the only thing to explain it. It was almost like... like destiny. Or fate. Or something equally as cliché and gag-inducing. But the point was, whatever this was, whatever was happening, whatever he was feeling... it was meant to happen.
"Maybe I shouldn't go, Kyle." Kenny's shoulders were slumped around his heart.
Kyle grabbed Kenny's by the arm, and the sudden movement made Kenny jump. "No! No, Kenny. You deserve to go. How long have you been waiting for a chance like this?"
Kenny shook his head. "Yeah, but Eric. He's already been-"
"I'll take care of Eric. I'll take both him and Stan to the movies while you go to the interview." Even Kyle thought he sounded too eager, but Kenny seemed too distracted to notice. Kenny looked at Kyle in wonderment.
"You would do that?"
In an instant, two skinny arms wrapped around Kyle's neck. Kyle didn't move for a moment, letting the feeling sink in, and then he hugged Kenny back.
Stan's house looked like every other house on the block. Two stories, a small front yard, and a few tattered holiday decorations nobody had bothered to take down. Eric kept squirming in the back seat. For the entire 10 minutes it took to get there, he did nothing but complain and attempt to start arguments, but now, he fell silent. Kyle tried to guess which one of the windows belonged to Stan's room. He even considered asking the fatass, but then he remembered that Eric hadn't visited Stan's house before... had he?
"I swear, that hippie takes longer than a girl!"
Upon that statement the front door opened. Kyle's heart leapt when he saw a familiar knitted hat. A tall, short-haired woman stood over Stan in the doorway, adjusting Stan's clothes. She seemed intent on making him look like a cancer patient, the way she kept pulling the hat down. Kyle couldn't get over how awfully plain she looked. She was neither bright nor lovely. Parents never seemed to be. It must have been by some miracle that she and Stan were related.
Stan finally shoved her away and made his escape toward the car. His mom looked like she was about to follow, but Stan halted her with a glare over his shoulder. Kyle smiled. It seemed like sweet little Stan could be aggressive when he wanted to be. It only added to his lure, naturally. Some kids could get so passionate over nothing. The idea of unadulterated emotion, to be angry just to be angry, to cry, to scream, to be consumed by one's own selfish hate: it made Kyle feel tingly. Alive.
"Sorry about that." Stan was breathless from the cold by the time he got to the car. The first thing he did, before even putting on his seatbelt, was take off his hat. He gave his head a good shake before putting it back on. A few strands of hair fell into his eyes.
"Your mother seems concerned. Should I, uh, meet her or something?"
"What? No. She's just a little protective sometimes."
Well, Kyle had to hand it to her, whatever the woman lacked in charm, she made up in sense.
"I told her you were a collage professor," Stan continued. "That's the only reason why she's not here interrogating you."
"Yeah, yeah. Stan's mom is a bitch, can we get going now?"
"Shut the hell up!"
Stan was on top of Eric in a second. Or at least, he would have been, Kyle imagined, if Kyle wasn't there. Instead, Stan just glowered and Eric snickered, knowing he'd won. Kyle sucked in his cheeks and pulled away from the house. He had to stay cool, controlled — something he'd had practice with.
"So which movie are we going to see?"
Stan brightened. "The Terrance and Philip movie finally came out in theaters! You remember when we told you about it?"
Kyle knew he should focus on the road, but he couldn't help holding Stan's gaze in the review mirror just a tad longer than he should have. "I remember." Of course Kyle remembered. Kyle remembered every detail of every conversation he'd had with Stan, however few and brief they might have been. Kyle made a hobby out of playing each one out in his head before bed, which kept them fresh in his memory.
Stan bounced a little in his seat. "Oh yeah, so, I saw these new previews and—"
"Hey, did you start on your science project yet?" Eric interrupted.
Stan's attention was much like a flash bomb, Kyle realized. It lit up the darkness when he least expected it, but only for a few, fleeting moments.
"No, I haven't even started it. Why?"
Just like that, Kyle became one with the scenery. Kyle was nothing to Stan, just a means to an end. Just a mode of transportation. Just another adult. In Stan's eyes, Kyle was no different from his mother, or father, or dentist. But Kyle was different. Unlike the rest of them, Kyle could see what he was missing. Kyle could see Stan differently than the rest of them could. Kyle saw that Stan could have saved him. Somewhere, in some different universe, they could have been friends. Stan could have been there for Kyle. And Kyle could have been completely and utterly devoted to Stan without having to hide his feelings like they were something to be ashamed of. Through all the though times, through all the shit that went down in their lives, they could have had each other.
And now, like some sort of practical joke, after all Kyle had been through alone, Stan had been thrown right into his lap. Caring Stan, who was too preoccupied with hopeless Eric Cartman (an idiot, just as blind to Stan's brilliance as every dimwitted and self-absorbed adult Kyle had the displeasure of meeting) to notice Kyle, starving for salvation right in front of him. Caring Stan, doomed to be taken advantage of. Doomed to grow up, doomed to be told he can't, doomed to have his light blown out like a candle. Kyle knew Stan's course, because he had sat back and watched it happen to others. All of them were spirited little things. There was Clyde, a sensitive boy who had a love for Mexican food and pretzels, that is, before his mother forced him on a diet (unlike Eric, Clyde's chub was adorable in a baby sort of way). There was Annie, a curly-haired sweetheart who convinced herself she needed start shaving, straightening her hair, and wearing lipstick. There was also Allen, Thomas, Sarah and... well, it hurt to remember.
"Hey, um, the movie theater was back there."
Kyle glanced back, snapped out of his thoughts. He was squeezing the steering wheel so hard his knuckles looked like they were ready to pop out of his skin. Stan smiled understandingly.
"Distracted, huh? My mom get mad at me for daydreaming."
He wouldn't let it happen again. Kyle knew everyone would think it was wrong, but how could it be wrong when it made him so happy? When it made the both of them so happy? When something like that could fix him? More importantly, it would be perfectly innocent. Nobody would get hurt. Not Stan, and not Kyle. Not anymore.
Kyle wheeled the car around.
It wasn't too late for them.
The movie theater was emptier than usual. Boys around Stan and Eric's age filled up the seats in random areas: a group here, a couple there, and in the center of it all was Eric, as usual. He sat right between Kyle and Stan with a giant package of candies, chocolate bars, and popcorn. Stan had long given up on trying to pick popcorn out of the bag and settled on taking short sips of his soda.The puckering of his lips and his cheeks sinking in were emphasized by the shadows cast by the film. Kyle noted that Stan had an excellent profile, which was made even more appealing with his subtle changes in expression. Spotting those miniscule details was endless fun, and it kept Kyle entertained more than any movie could. He could watch Stan like this for hours.
The movie seemed to be some sort of courtroom drama with fits of farting in between. Kyle didn't understand. Wasn't it supposed to be funny? The humor might have been crude, but it was (in theory) a comedy. Neither boy even hinted at a smile; both were caught up in the soap operatic frenzy.
Kyle glanced up at the screen with half-lidded eyes. A pause in dialogue indicated that some sort of big reveal was about to happen. He was sure he could have guessed it himself if he paid just half a mind's attention to the plot. Eric, on the other hand, leaned forward with intrigue, causing his entire seat to shift. He was gripping both armrests, forcing Kyle to lean entirely on his left elbow. Kyle couldn't wait for the moment to end so Eric would sit back; he was obstructing Kyle's view of Stan like a beached whale obstructing a view of the ocean.
"For you see, ladies and gentlemen of the jury," the film droned on, "this evidence proves that the true killer was none other than... Mr. Beans, the gardener!"
All Kyle heard was a tiny gasp before Eric let out a loud yelp and nearly pushed him out of his seat.
"What the hell are you—" Eric seemed at a loss for words.
Kyle 's words seemed to turn to dust in his mouth when he looked over and realized what made Eric jump. Stan's hands were gripping the top of Eric's so hard that little folds of flesh rose between his fingers.
Stan's face heated up. "S-sorry, dude."
Eric grabbed a fistful of popcorn and shoved it into his mouth. He stared into the paper bag while he chewed. Finally, after swallowing, he turned to Stan and mumbled, "Let go already, faggot," without making any eye contact.
Stan looked down at his frozen hand as if it were foreign to him. He quickly let go and busied himself with chewing on the nail on his thumb. Both of them stared at the screen with their backs pressed all the way into the seat.
Kyle's head buzzed like a swarm of angry bees. Bright colors popped in the corners of his vision and it felt like his brain was pushing up against the confinements of his skull. He couldn't talk. He couldn't think. All he could do was stand up, shuffle toward the end of the row, walk out into the hallway, and practically sprint to the nearest bathroom.
He scrubbed his face with cold water until it felt like he had rubbed all his freckles off. The tips of his fingers pressed into his eyelids. It was okay. Everything was okay. Stan was surprised, that's all. He just... he just grabbed the closest thing to him. It wasn't his fault Eric took up any possible free space. And Eric... his face was always red. He just had that sort of complexion. It wasn't a big deal. There wasn't any funny business going on.
Kyle washed his hands. The bees were back in their hive and his kneecaps felt solid again. He leaned forward and grabbed the sides of the sink. He could do this. He even felt capable enough to mutter a few insincere excuse mes as he made his way back to his seat. Kyle stared into his dark, hollow pupils. Soon, everything would get better, but only if he was smart about what he did from now on. There wasn't any room for freak-outs or mistakes.
He made his way back to the theater with a spring in his step. His eyes adjusted easily to the change in lighting, as they always had. Somehow, what he saw when he looked down his row didn't seem all too shocking. Breathing through his nose, Kyle sat down in his seat and pointedly stared at the screen with his hands folded in his lap.
Eric, it seemed, had experienced a change in heart in the few short minutes while Kyle was gone. The bag of popcorn had shifted to the right, giving Stan free access to whatever Eric hadn't already devoured.
In the back seat on the drive home from the movie, Eric practically pressed himself against the car door, and Stan stared out the window on the opposite side. A voice spoke directly into Kyle's ear: "What?"
Kyle knew he shouldn't have been talking on his cell phone while driving, but he desperately needed to speak with Kenny about a matter of utmost importance: "Stan was wondering if he could sleep over tonight."
There was a silence on the other end. Kyle kept his attention firmly on his driving and deliberately didn't glance at the back seat.
"...Don't they have school on Monday?"
"They said that they don't. Some president's birthday."
"And his mom said it's okay?"
"Stan said she would probably be fine with it."
"Well, um, right, I guess. I'm okay with it if you are."
They came up to a red light. Kyle counted to five in his head."Yeah, I think I'll be fine."
"Cool. I'll pick up some burgers on my way home."
Kyle let out the breath he was holding in and his eyelids slid shut. Of course Kenny wouldn't say no. He was way too nice of a guy. And hardworking. Kyle wondered why the guy had such a hard time holding down a job.
Kyle's eyes snapped open again. "Oh! How did the interview go, by the way?"
But Kenny had already hung up.
Eric somehow fished out an old Ninja Turtles pajama top for Stan to sleep in. The pants didn't fit, but the shirt itself came down to just above Stan's knees, which Kenny decided was cover enough. Because it was short-sleeved, it almost looked like nightgown. Though there was ample material for teasing, Eric chose to stay silent as they crawled into his bed and watched TV.
Kenny changed the channel to some horror marathon. Half-hour segments showcased fangs, full moons, and young teenage girls getting torn to pieces.
"Oh, that looks bloody!" Kenny would say from his spot at the edge of the bed.
Stan looked on with mild interest. He jumped at a few scares, but generally remained expressionless throughout the episodes. "My mom says that monsters aren't real. They don't scare me anymore," he said over the credits to The Boogieman Chronicles.
As for Eric, well, Kyle was sure he'd choked on his own drool somewhere between Sylvia the Vampire Queen and Casper the Head-Hunting Ghost. Eric's eyes were so glazed over that he didn't even need to blink anymore.
When Kenny realized that he wasn't holding either boy's attention, he gave up on trying to connect and tossed the remote at Eric.
"I'm awake!" Eric shouted as it hit him on the chest. Then, his eyes closed and an earth-shattering snore sounded.
Kenny stood up and stretched. "Eric's got the right idea, there. I'm going to bed. You coming Kyle?"
Kyle sat at the kitchen table, facing the living room, his laptop in front of him.
"I think I'll stay up and get some work done. I'm not sure if I have class tomorrow. I'm going to go in anyway."
"Why not just call one of your friends and ask them?"
Kyle didn't know how to explain that Wendy was the only person he ever talked to at work... and she wasn't picking up any of her phones, emergency line or otherwise. Kyle would have been concerned, but she answered her office number by accident once before promptly hanging up. This reassured Kyle that she was merely ignoring him. Probably something to do with her being sick, or more likely something Kyle did wrong.
Kenny didn't stick around to hear Kyle's answer before he left for his bedroom. Stan grabbed the remote and changed program to a late-night cartoon. Eric stirred and sat up. It looked like helium-pitched voices were more effective than an alarm clock.
Kyle watched the two of them from his spot. Besides a few whispered sentences, Eric and Stan barely interacted. A couple of hours passed. Stan laid his head down on a pillow and Eric warped the covers around himself. Once Kyle was certain all movement had ceased, he folded his laptop under his arm and walked toward the staircase. He paused in front of the folding couch and took a good long moment to soak in the situation: Eric had not only managed to hog all the covers to himself, but he had gotten all tangled up in them as well, leaving no hope for Stan to pull some over to his side.
Stan looked so innocent, huddled up like a little hamster. His hands were folded on top of one another, as if he were in a sideways prayer. He curled and uncurled his toes in his sleep.
Kyle hurried up the stairs into his bedroom without thinking twice. He disposed of his laptop and grabbed the green woven blanket off his own bed before hurrying back downstairs. When he approached Stan, he held his breath so he wouldn't make noise.Gently, Kyle draped his covers over him. Stan didn't cuddle into the blanket's warmth as Kyle had hoped, he didn't even shift in his sleep, but that didn't matter. Knowing that his covers would shield Stan from both the cold and Eric Cartman was enough to make Kyle feel like he could sleep for a hundred years. So, he turned off the television and retired for the night.
Colorado mornings were like the worst kind of ex-girlfriend: bitter, frigid, and unforgiving. Kyle had woken up before the sun had risen and did his daily pre-work routine. By the time he got to his car, fresh snow had melted into his shoes. Despite that, driving down to Denver was rather pleasant. The roads in and out of South Park were empty, but they usually were. Each day Kyle would watch the sun rise over the mountains and cast its orange glow on the ground. Kyle didn't find the sunrise particularly sentimental, but it was pretty. Well, as pretty as a giant mass of fire and gas could hope to be.
His thoughts turned to Wendy. It wasn't even the fact that she was angry with him that bothered him; it was the reason why — more specifically, that he didn't know what it was. He had always been a good boyfriend. He did what good boyfriends did. He took her out to dinner and always picked up the bill without complaint. He never forgot a birthday or an anniversary. He'd introduced her to his family. He bought her gifts in her favorite color. What else could she expect of him?
He took the exit into Denver, with full intentions of driving to campus. It was funny, then, how he ended up in front of Wendy's apartment door. He rang the doorbell, even though it was 5 in the morning. He knew Wendy was an early riser.
She answered the door, her hair up in a bun. Her face was fuller than Kyle remembered. Her yoga clothes seemed tight around her belly. Some flab accumulated around her arms and thighs.
"What are you doing here?" she asked. Kyle put is hands in his pockets. The hem of his pants dripped onto the carpet.
"Just wondering what was up. You haven't talked to me lately."
"Hm. I still don't know what you're doing here."
"Oh. Can I come in?"
Wendy sighed. Not an angry sigh, or a frustrated sigh, or even a sad sigh. Just a tired sigh.
"We're over, Kyle. If we've ever been together."
Kyle didn't know what to say. He didn't have anything to say. Wendy leaned on her doorframe. She looked at Kyle with no particular emotion.
"I don't get why you try so hard," she said. Kyle shrugged. They stared into each other's eyes.
"Why now?" he asked.
"Because I couldn't wait for you. Because I'm moving. Because I'm pregnant."
"Don't worry, it's not yours."
The calm between them made the atmosphere feel hollow. Has it always been natural for them to be so emotionally castrated with each other? Kyle couldn't remember.
"Who's the father?"
A smile tugged and Kyle's lips. "That... that kid that always follows you around?"
They stood still for a moment. Then, they burst into laughter as if Wendy had told a hilarious joke.
Kyle spoke again as their amusement died down. "Jesus, does he even know?"
"Of course he doesn't know!" Wendy giggled. She wiped a tear from her eye. "I'll be long gone before I really start showing."
"He'll probably mope around for weeks, wondering why the love of his life left him."
"He's being let off easy, and he doesn't even know it."
"...So you're planning to have it, then."
Wendy pursed her lips. "Don't get me wrong, for a long time I wasn't, but being a single mom is kind of glamorous in its own little way. And, well, I'm ready for some different company. A girl or boy. A baby."
"One would be good for you."
A meow from inside sounded. Wendy sniffed. "That would be Jeremy. And my cue to go." She stepped back across the threshold and was about to close the door.
Wendy paused and looked to Kyle.
"I want you to come over for dinner tomorrow."
"And bring Butters with you."
"Why would you want me to do that?"
Kyle placed his finger on his chin.
"It would be so... inappropriate. Like an elephant in the room only we know about," he explained.
Wendy nodded. "Yes, I get what you mean. It would really sum up everything nicely."
Kyle never did ask if they had work that day. He got in his car and headed back in the direction he'd come from. The city was waking up. Back home, so was a little boy. As if Kyle would miss something so spectacular.
Natural sunlight flooded the living room. Eric was still asleep on the bed, his arms and legs stretched out like a starfish. Stan was missing, however, and so was Kyle's blanket. Kyle walked up the stairs and, as he expected, the door to his bedroom was slightly ajar. He looked in. Stan was leaning over his desk, looking over the papers strewn about. He was still wearing Eric's shirt. His hair wasn't combed, and his eyes still looked slightly dewy.
Kyle cleared his throat. Stan hopped away from the desk like a frightened rabbit.
Kyle smiled and stepped into the room. "Good morning, Stan."
"Er, um, g-good morning. I didn't touch anything, I swear!"
"I don't mind you looking over my things. I would appreciate you asking me first, though."
Stan blushed a virgin pink. "Sorry! I was just... Kenny said the blanket was yours, so I just brought it back. Sorry, and thank you for it!"
Kyle's blanket was folded neatly and the edge of his bed.
"That's very nice of you, Stan. Thanks for bringing it back."
"No problem. I'm just waiting for Kenny to finish in the bathroom... Eric's still asleep, but, um, I guess you already knew that."
Kyle sat down at his desk, willing himself not to look at Stan. He shuffled papers, pretending to be busy. The plan worked. Stan began to relax again and he continued wandering around the room. He came across the framed photo Kyle had on his nightstand.
"Is that your brother?" Stan asked. Kyle wheeled around. He was surprised Stan had noticed it.
"Yes. That's me when I was your age. The little baby is my brother, Ike."
"You and your brother must be best friends."
"We get along okay. We don't see much of each other anymore."
"He lives in Ontario now."
"Do you miss him?"
"I suppose so. We were very close at one point in time."
Stan took the frame into his hands and sat on the bed. Kyle felt like his stomach might explode.
"It must be fun having a brother. I always wanted a little brother, but all I'm stuck with is a stupid sister." Stan's face twisted into a grimace.
"I didn't know you had siblings."
"Yeah, I do. Shelly, though, she's a bitch. I can't stand her! She thinks that she can boss me around just because she's bigger than me!"
"Oh. Did you tell your parents she does that?"
"I try to, but they never believe me! She spits on me, and she says she does it because it doesn't leave any marks. When she hits me she always does it in places where my parents wouldn't see."
Kyle moistened his lips. "Places like where?"
Stan jumped to his feet. He didn't even hesitate when he lifted the shirt above his naval.
"See?" He pointed to a yellowish bruise below his ribcage. It looked like it was almost healed, but Stan treated it as a grizzly battle wound worthy of veneration. "It's better now, but you should have seen it before! I seriously thought I broke something!"
Stan's skin looked so supple and white. Kyle couldn't spot a single blemish or birthmark, other than the bruise. Even that was barely visible. Until now, Kyle thought that such skin only existed in moisturizer commercials and his fantasies. All too soon, he was looking the face of a ninja turtle.
"Can you believe I have to live with her?" Stan cried.
Kyle made a sound to indicate he was listening and sympathetic. He waited a few moments for Stan to calm down before asking his question."Stan, how come you never show your parents these bruises?"
Stan shifted from one foot to another. "Shelly said that if I get her in trouble, she would cut Sparky's leash and he would run away or... something else that's bad. Like, I'll never get to see him again kind of bad."
"Oh. I see."
Of course. Stan's dog. How could Kyle not see it for himself?
"Sorry to interrupt, but the bathroom is free now." Kenny poked his head into the room. His hair was damp and there was a towel around his neck. He sighed when he saw Stan still wearing the shirt. "You should really change out of that soon, Stan. I think you're starting to get a bit too comfortable."
Stan blushed and nodded. Kenny left.
"I'll make us some breakfast," Kyle offered. "Anything you're craving?"
Stan looked toward the ceiling and stuck out his tongue.
"How about omelets. The cheesy ones?"
"Cheesy omelets it is."
Stan grinned and headed toward the door.
"Oh, and Stan?"
Stan turned around.
"I'd try not to make your sister too angry."
"Oh, well... some dogs could be pretty vulnerable, if you know what I mean. Even if she's not trying to, Shelly could accidently hurt Sparky by mistake, just trying to scare you."
"I think its better that you keep quiet about the bruises. I don't think your mom and dad would be much help, anyway."
Stan blinked a couple of times. His eyes were beginning to look more and more reflective."Yeah, I think you're right. My dad... he's kind of and idiot sometimes."
By the time Stan and Kyle had finished eating, Eric had woken up. He walked into the kitchen fully dressed. He saw the empty plates and paused in front of the table. Kyle stood up and grabbed a clean plate from the shelves. "I made some for you too," he said.
Eric swallowed, put his hands on the chair, took his hands off the chair, and put his hands back on the chair before pulling it out and finally sitting down. "I'm not hungry."
Kyle's lips twitched but he forced them into a smile.
"I can make you something else, if you want. We have cereal, or we can use eggs to—"
"No. I'm just not hungry."
Kyle sucked his lips back in and pressed them down.
"You want to go outside?" Stan asked.
Eric didn't answer. He got up and headed toward the door. Stan stared at him. Kyle stared at Stan. "Well, are you coming or not?"
Stan stood up and left his dirty plate on the table. He didn't even thank Kyle for breakfast. The front door slammed shut. Kyle took Stan's plate from the table and looked at the crumbs still stuck to it as he stood over the sink. He turned on the water.
And then he smashed the plate against the wall.
Small and large shards collected in the skink. The smaller ones moved in a swirly motion with the water. Kyle managed a small cut on his finger and another on the top of his hand. Blood dripped on the white plate and mixed with the water.
Why? Why was Stan doing this to him? Why was he so responsive to him one second and then acting like Kyle didn't exist the next? Was he toying with him? Was Kyle doing something wrong? He did everything to make Stan feel comfortable around him; he was there for Stan, never got angry with him. Their conversations went beyond just polite chitchat. So why did Stan refuse to befriend him? Kyle wanted to be patient, but the lack of consistency was driving him mad! How was he supposed to know how to act when he didn't know where they stood?
"Whoa, what happened?"
Kyle didn't turn around. He began picking up larger chunks of the plate. "I dropped it. It broke."
Kenny came up next to Kyle in front of the stove. He dug into the omelets, eating straight out the pan using a fork. "Eric has a doctor's appointment tomorrow," he said between mouthfuls of egg. "You don't have to take him to school. I'll take care of stuff."
Kyle finished cleaning up. He had too much on his mind to worry about the fatass.
"Hey!" Eric hobbled into the kitchen, his face red. Stan followed behind him, his arm folded over his stomach and his face as pale as a ghost.
Kenny turned around. "What's wrong with you two?"
"Stan threw up!" Eric announced.
Stan swallowed heavily and looked to the ground. Kenny wrinkled his eyebrows.He got down on one knee and placed his hand on Stan's forehead. "It doesn't look like you have a fever. What happened?"
Stan's face reddened and his body lurched.
Kenny jumped away. "Okay, okay! Come on, I'm taking you home!"
In a flurry both Kenny and Stan were out the door. Eric followed them. He watched them drive off, his cheeks still pink.
Kyle glared at Eric's back with his arms crossed. "What happened?"
Eric whirled around. The rims of his eyes were red and his nose was red and dripping. "How the fuck should I know what happed?!" he screamed before he stormed passed Kyle. In the kitchen, Kyle heard the refrigerator, cupboards, and cabinets slam open and shut in Eric's mad crusade to find anything edible.
The first thing Kyle did when he woke up the next morning was look for his cell phone. He would call in sick that day. Something about Eric's broken expression yesterday made Kyle feel too good to go to work. Plus, both Eric and Kenny would be gone, leaving Kyle free to enjoy a whole day's worth of solitude. Kyle usually had to avoid situations like that. Kyle didn't do very well when he was alone. His thoughts often got carried away when left to his own devices, but Kyle hasn't had a bad thought in ages. He'd been feeling perfectly reasonable, in fact. Ever since he met Stan, things had been making sense in a way they hadn't since he was a little kid.
Kyle had long decided there was nothing wrong with him. All these feelings of guilt, of fear, of loneliness, they were planted in him. Kyle knew what made him happy. Kyle knew how to take care of himself, he didn't need someone else telling him what was right or what was wrong or what was good for him. Just because everyone else numbed themselves into thinking they were satisfied with tiptoeing around their desires didn't mean that Kyle had to, too. Let them think want they want. Kyle felt sorry for them, forever trapped within someone else's standards.
Wendy was coming over that night, and Kyle still didn't know what he should make. Perhaps salt crackers dipped in raw egg served with a side of carrots? The thought of that was hilarious for some reason and it made Kyle want to giggle out loud. It was as funny as blisters from shoes that fit too tight or little foot-shaped stickers on the ground as guides when dancing. Kyle was finding a lot of things hilarious these days.
He went to the market and bought a pre-roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and peas. The wounds on his hands stung a little as he carried the plastic bags. The cuts were so small, barely even visible, but they still hurt, and Kyle couldn't stand the fact that something so insignificant could hurt so much that when got home, he picked and ripped at the skin until those previously insignificant cuts looked like they might scar, and then, he had this strange urge to pour rubbing alcohol over them and he was about to go up into the bathroom when the doorbell rang. Kyle rinsed his hands before answering.
"Oh, Stan. It's nice to see you again. What are you doing here?"
Stan adjusted his backpack straps. "Hi. Um, Eric wasn't at school today."
"That's right, he had a doctor's appointment."
"Oh. I brought him his homework. I came to drop it off."
"Thank you. I'm sure Eric will appreciate it. Come on inside."
"I actually can't stay for long."
Kyle smiled. "Well, Eric and Kenny aren't home yet."
"Oh, He's... not?"
"Sorry, no. But we are having some guests over for dinner later and I'm sure no one would mind if one more joined us."
Stan shifted. "And, Eric will be home soon?"
"Yes, he should be home any minute now."
"Uhh, o-okay. I guess I can call my mom and ask her."
"Alright. You can use the phone in the kitchen."
Stan stepped inside and Kyle locked the door.
"So are you feeling better from yesterday?"
The couch was folded up, and Kyle and Stan sat next to each other. Stan sat with his legs crossed under him, and Kyle had his hands in his lap.
"Yeah, I started feeling better in the car."
Silence. Stan kept glancing up at the door.
"I think Eric is mad at me," Stan said suddenly. Kyle placed his hand on Stan's shoulder.
"Why would you think that, Stan?"
Stan's lips quivered. "Because I threw up yesterday when we were, I mean, I didn't even mean to! I don't know why it happened!"
Kyle scooted closer until their sides were touching. Stan felt small under his arm. Kyle wanted nothing more then to envelop him, to shield him from whatever was hurting him; Kyle couldn't stand the way Stan's body shook, and how he struggled to breath between sobs. Kyle placed his hands on top of Stan's head. The tips of his long white fingers were covered by Stan's black hair.
"I'm sure Eric understands that you have no control over how your body reacts to certain things."
"You don't get it," Stan mumbled into Kyle's shirt. Kyle remembered how angry Eric had been yesterday. How he ate every parcel of food in the house, how he wouldn't talk to Kenny all evening, and how he went to bed two hours before he usually did.
Kyle leaned back to get a look at Stan's face. Everything was red and puffy, and his glimmering blue eyes were gorgeous in contrast. "Stan, what happened yesterday?"
"He... he kissed me."
It took a long moment for the statement to register, but Kyle wasn't surprised once it did. Of course that fat, revolting, reject scum would try to kiss Stan. Eric saw something precious and beautiful in Stan, and tried to take it for himself. But despite Stan's kindness and pity, Eric still couldn't win it. Stan was so disgusted that he actually threw up! It made Kyle feel like someone had lit a hearth inside of him; the warmth extended to his fingers and toes.
"And, you threw up because Eric kissed you?"
Stan stopped crying and wiped his eyes. "Yes. He just, leaned in, and my stomach felt weird because I wasn't sure what he was doing even though I thought I knew. My stomach felt weird since we went to the movies, but then, when we, um, touched, it was like I couldn't take it anymore, and everything just came out."
Kyle nodded and mumbled that it was okay.
Stan sniffed and his eyes began to well up again. "Am I bad?"
"No, of course you're not bad. Why would you be bad?"
"Because... boys are supposed to be with girls, and if they're not, they're bad."
"Not all the time. Some boys can be with boys and some girls can be with girls. Whoever told you it was bad didn't know what they were talking about."
Stan didn't say anything, and then he looked up at Kyle. "What if I don't know which one I want to be with?"
"Well, then we will have to check."
Kyle leaned down and put his lips on Stan's. They tasted salty from the tears. He wouldn't be Stan's first kiss, but that wouldn't matter soon.
Stan pulled away. "What are you doing?" His eyes were wide and his back was pressed against the armrest. Kyle rubbed Stan's arm with one hand and held Stan's hand with the other.
"Don't worry, I'm just trying to help you."
"Do you get scared when your mom kisses you?" Kyle asked.
"This is the same thing. I'm only kissing you in a different way."
"I don't like this way."
"Really? Because this is the way that Eric wants to kiss you." Kyle leaned back. "I guess if you don't like it then we should stop. You probably like girls after all." Kyle scooted away from Stan and acted like he was about to stand up. Stan quickly grabbed Kyle's sleeve.
"Wait! I-I'm not sure yet. Can we... try it again?"
Kyle smiled. As gently as he could, he leaned over Stan and planted a peck on his lips before pulling back. "So? How is it?"
"It... feels different than when Eric did it. I don't know. I feel like this isn't going to work."
"I think you're right. You should try it with Eric to know for sure."
"Thank you, though," Stan said, "for trying. I could never ask my mom or dad to do something like this."
Kyle patted Stan on the back. "You're very welcome. You know, if you want, I could show you a special grown-up way of kissing."
Stan blinked. "Really?"
"Yep. I bet it would really impress Eric."
Stan didn't say anything for a few seconds, but when he did, he no longer had tears in his eyes. He got closer to Kyle. "Okay, show me."
Kyle cupped Stan's face with both his hands. "First, you have to open your mouth."
Kyle felt something deep within him stir... something he never felt with Wendy or anybody else he had ever been with. Kyle slid his hands up Stan's shirt, and the warmth of his skin, his mouth, it was all so invigorating. Kyle actually felt his heart pumping. He felt blood flow through his veins and he felt his cells multiplying deep within his very core. He felt like a person, like a living live person.
Stan had skinny little arms and legs. Kyle was thrilled when he saw they were completely hairless. Stan squirmed more and more as Kyle got more aggressive; Stan kicked in protest as one by one, articles of clothing were peeled from his body. Kyle had played out this scene so many times in his head, and it was unreal to actually be experiencing it. He was prepared for Stan's resistance. Kyle whispered comfort words into Stan's ears, how this was all natural and okay. That it was just love, and love was nothing to be afraid of. Stan cried harder, and when he saw Kyle begin to undress too, he went totally limp. He kept his eyes screwed shut, never once opening them.
Kyle bent down and buried his face into Stan's hair. He took a deep, long breath. It smelled like shampoo and snow and dirt. The scent made Kyle's eyes roll upward into their sockets. He felt Stan's pulse all through his body, and all at once, they were engulfed in a world of sweat and blood.
"Hey, sorry we're late."
Kenny walked through the door with Eric in tow. They both seemed tired but the self-destructive energy Eric had about him last night had completely vanished. He went into the kitchen without saying a word to Kyle.
"How did the doctor's appointment go?" Kyle asked. Kenny sighed.
"It went okay. It was mostly blood work that needed to get done, but he's actually pretty decent with needles, as long as he has some kind of sucker in his mouth."
"That's good. And the rest of the day?"
"I don't know. I tried to get Eric to talk to me a little bit. He's so mysterious, that kid. He's so angry and inappropriate all the time, but I swear there's something moral in him... he's just scared out of his mind. And so confused."
"Well, he seems to be better from yesterday."
"Right, right. So when's Wendy going to get here?"
"Six-thirty. She's bringing one of her friends with her."
"Friend? That's new."
"Yeah, we all met on campus."
Eric came back, drinking a soda. Kenny looked past Kyle and frowned. "Eric! The doctor said no sugary drinks!"
"Calm the fuck down! I'm only having one!"
"Well, you better make it last good and long, then, because we're not getting any more once we run out."
Eric grumbled and took a swing of his soda.
"Eric, you seemed really down yesterday, so I hope you don't mind that I invited Stan over for dinner."
Eric choked. "S-Stan is here?"
"Yeah, he came by after school and brought the assignments you missed today."
"Of course he would," Eric grumbled.
Kenny looked around. "Great, where is he?"
"He's in the bathroom. Actually, he's been in there for a while now and I was about to go check on him. Eric?"
"Well, he's your friend."
Eric's faced reddened and he crossed his arms. "Like hell I'm going to."
Kyle shrugged. "Fine, I'll be right back." He went upstairs and knocked on the bathroom door. "Stan?" No answer. "Stan, I just want you to know Eric and Kenny are home now. You should come downstairs."
Kyle heard shuffling but Stan still didn't say anything. The doorknob jiggled after a few moments. Stan emerged. His eyes and nose were red, but his face was free of tear-streaks. His clothes looked neat and average, not at all dishelmed as they were a half hour ago.
Stan walked passed him and went downstairs. Kyle noticed that Stan limped slightly when he tried to step down to the next step. Kyle sighed. Stan was angry with him but he would get over it. He told himself it would have happened eventually, and it might as well have been now, before Kyle went crazy.
"So what did I miss?" Eric asked Stan. Stan crossed his arms but he didn't sit down.
"Do you have any worksheets for me?
"So then what did you come over for?"
"I don't know."
"Whatever. You would have been better off if you've just stayed home."
"H-Hello! It's real nice to meet everyone!"
Butters was oozing happiness from every pore. It was easy for Kyle to see why Wendy might have been attracted to him. He and Kenny shook hands, and when Butters saw Stan and Eric, he got even more excited.
"Well hiya, fellas! What are your names?"
Eric had disgust written all over his face. It took a nudge from Kenny to get him to respond. "Um, Eric."
"Golly, that's a great name! And what about you?"
Butters took a step toward Stan and Stan took two steps away from him.
"My name is Stan!" Stan said his name quickly, as if that information would keep Butters back. Butters' smile faltered a bit.
"Well it's fantastic meeting the both of ya!" He turned to Kyle. "You have a lovely house, Professor."
Kyle smiled. "Oh, please. You're not my student, and we're not in school. You can just call me Kyle." From the corner of his eye, Kyle saw Stan glaring at him.
"Alright, alright already. I don't know about everyone else, but I'm hungry!"
Kenny was polite enough not to say anything as Wendy hustled into the kitchen, although he had been staring at her with great interest since she arrived. Her stomach had a distinct bulge in her new outfit, but with Wendy's extra pounds around the rest of her body, it still passed for gained weight. Instead, when Kenny leaned over to whisper to Kyle, he said, "Butters looks a little young to be a teacher," and Kyle couldn't do anything but agree.
Butters was, however, the life of the conversation at the table. He commented on anything and everything and he always had something positive to say. Wendy giggled at every little word that came out of his mouth, or at least she did when she wasn't shoveling mashed potatoes into her own.
Stan sat as far away from Kyle as he possibly could, which happened to be next to Butters. Despite his initial coldness, Eric sat beside Stan, though he didn't attempt any communications.
"So what school do you boys go to?"
"South Park Elementary," Eric answered.
"And are you both in the same grade?"
"Yeah," Eric answered again. He had been answering questions for the both of them all night.
"Stan, you're a quiet one, aren't you?" Butters asked
Stan bit into his chicken and Eric just rolled his eyes. "Not usually. I don't know what crawled up his butt today, but he's actually really nice."
Stan paused his chewing and looked to Eric. Eric stared down at his plate but a light pink blush had already colored his cheeks.
"So what do you want to be when you're older, Stan?"
Stan coughed. "I don't know."
"You have to have some idea."
"Stan really likes animals!" Kyle interrupted. "Don't you, Stan?"
Stan tore into the chicken leg he was eating and didn't answer.
As soon as dinner was over, Stan headed for the door. Kenny somehow convinced Eric to walk with him at least a few blocks, saying it would be good for the both of them. Kyle thought that Kenny might have had figured out that Stan was the reason Eric had been acting so moody. As soon as they were out the door, Butters piped up.
"Does anyone know what's going on with him?"
"With who?" Wendy asked.
"That Stanley kid. He seemed so... gosh, I don't even know how to explain it!"
"Yeah, he was a little more quiet than what I remember," Wendy recalled.
"But it was something different." Butters was determined. "He was so nervous. I think someone should talk to him, or at least tell his parents—"
"Now, now. Don't get ahead of yourself. You're just over-analyzing things. Kids will get worked up over everything," Wendy said.
"Don't worry, it happens to greenhorns all the time. You'll be diagnosing your whole family soon."
Wendy and Butters left in the same car, and Eric got home just as their headlights disappeared into the darkness. Eric's face was a deep red, and his breath was heavy and rapid.
"Did you run all the way back here?" Kenny asked. Eric ran up to the bathroom and slammed the door shut. Kenny shook his head. "This must be one of the weirdest days I ever had."
Eric didn't come out of the bathroom for two hours, and neither Kyle nor Kenny mentioned anything the next day.
Eric spent a lot of time away from home, it seemed. He always had a project due, he always needed to stay after school for some reason, and he was always invited over to a friend's house for dinner. Kyle was willing to bet money that the only "friend" Eric was spending time with was Stan, who Kyle hadn't seen heads or tails of.
Kyle hadn't been to work in two weeks. He hadn't answered any phone calls from his job or responded to any emails. When Kenny asked about it, Kyle just said that they were on some sort of college break. Kenny seemed suspicious; he hadn't been to college. A vacation in the middle of the year seemed unlikely even to him, but he didn't have any reason not to trust Kyle. Kenny did complain about how Kyle never cooked anymore, though. Or did the dishes. Or washed his hair. ("Dude, your 'fro is going to, like, eat me if you don't do something about it!")
It wasn't that Kyle didn't want to do all those things; he just didn't seem to be able to muster the motivation to actually get off his bed and do them. The only thing he was actually good at was sleeping. He would wake up in the mornings and half the day had already gone by when he finally willed himself to get up. The more he slept, the more sleep he needed. It wasn't until one Friday when Eric came home after school that Kyle was snapped back into reality.
"Stan wanted to sleep over on Saturday. Would that be okay?"
"I don't know, Eric." Kenny had dark circles around his eyes, usually a sign that he had been reading all night. He was still looking for a job. "The house is a little bit of a mess right now to have company."
When Kyle heard about Eric's proposal, he stood up so quickly that his head spun. He couldn't get his hands on a vacuum cleaner fast enough. In, one, two, three hours the house was spotless. They could have eaten their drive-through burgers off the floor if they wanted to. So it was settled that Stan would spend the night the next day.
Stan arrived the next day with a single backpack. He looked the living room up and down and said, "I see nothing has changed around here."
Eric walked passed him. "Did you expect it to?" he asked. They both sat down on the bed and began chatting. Stan pulled out a handheld videogame system and Eric dug into the suitcase he has been living out of over the past two months to find his own. Kyle watched them silently from the kitchen. When Kenny walked in, Kyle pulled him aside.
"Where's Stan's sleeping bag?"
Kenny shrugged. "I figure they know each other well enough to sleep in the same bed. I mean, they already have, so there's no point."
Stan didn't talk to, look at, or acknowledge Kyle in any way, shape, or form. This was the reason why Kyle was sure Stan had come over to torture him. He stayed away for so long, too long, and when Kyle heard he wanted to come back again, he was sure Stan was ready to be with him. But, instead, it was just revenge Stan was after. Revenge for what he thought Kyle had done to him. But Kyle would not get angry. Stan just needed more time to understand, and Kyle needed to be patient. Until then, Kyle just had to endure whatever petty anger lay ahead of him.
When evening came, Kyle obediently went to bed along with Kenny. He lay in the darkness, missing Stan's warmth. He grabbed his blanket and pressed it against his face. This was the blanket Stan had slept with all those nights ago. It was his only comfort in the world. Kyle still remembered when he'd first given the blanket to Stan so clearly. It had been on the first night Stan and Eric had slept together.
Kyle sat up, the gears in his mind turning. His heart beat against his chest as he gathered his blanket into his arms and began his trek down to the living room as silently as he could. He heard noises from downstairs when he stepped out into the hallway. Could they still be awake? From the staircase, Kyle couldn't see much, but if he squinted, he could make out the shapes of their bodies against the darkness.
They were both sitting up, and Stan, the smaller shadow, was whispering something that Kyle couldn't quite make out. Eric moved away from away from Stan and lay back down, but Stan crawled over and climbed atop Eric's belly. Stan said something again before he leaned down and—
Kyle hurried back up to his room, feeling lightheaded. That couldn't be happening. Why would Stan want to do something like that? Kyle thought that maybe it was the darkness playing tricks on him, but he knew deep in his heart that that wasn't true. Stan was— was kissing Eric, and who knew what else. For how long had they been doing those things? Stan .Stan. Stan. Kyle wanted to cry. It was Stan teaching Eric all those horrible nasty things that no little boy should know. Kyle held onto his blanket. He closed his eyes and he saw Stan, the real Stan, playing and laughing without a care in the world.
Kyle did not sleep all night. He watched every minute of every hour pass by on his alarm clock. He counted the seconds in his head. Light filled the room, gradually. Kyle heard the first steps of the morning. They came up the stairs and paused in front of Kyle's room.
"I saw you last night." Stan stood in the doorway.
"You weren't very quiet. I saw you running away."
Kyle sat up on his bed and reached for Stan.
"Come here, Stan, please."
Stan stood where he was, watching Kyle. Kyle's arms fell to his sides.
"You need to stop this," Kyle said. "It's wrong, what you're doing. Someone your age shouldn't know about—"
Stan laughed bitterly. The sound made Kyle cringe.
"Wrong? Shouldn't know about it? How could you say that? How could you say that when you're the one who showed me!"
Kyle hated sappy love stories, the ones that went on about heartbreaks. Kyle didn't believe in heartbreaks until that very moment, because the pain, the literal pain in his chest, felt like his heart was ripping apart. His throat was so tight he was barely able to speak.
"I'm sorry, Stan. I'm sorry I did that. But, this isn't you. You need to go back to who you really are."
Stan gave a chilly stare.
"You don't know who I really am. So don't you fucking talk like you do."
Stan walked out and Kyle cried. Kyle cried for Stan, because Stan was dead. That person in the house may have looked like Stan and shared his name, but he was not him. The real Stan was innocent, curious, and carefree. This Stan was bitter and hateful, nothing but a cheap imitation of Kyle's real love. And worst of all, it was Kyle who had killed him. It was Kyle who killed Stan. Kyle didn't know how it happened. This wasn't how it was supposed to end. But somewhere he went wrong, and Stan died, and that vile creature took his place.
Kyle no longer bothered to go to work. He didn't shower, he barely left his room, and he only ate whenever Kenny brought him food. Kenny tried talking with Kyle in the beginning, but he also had Eric to care for, and that was a full-time job. Kyle was left in peace to stew in his own misery. Stan was dead. Stan was dead. He killed him. He killed him. Kyle didn't know if he could live in a world without Stan. Kyle didn't know if he could live with the guilt. Death was his only company in his sad little room, and she was starting to look mighty attractive.
Drowning or setting himself on fire both seemed like they would take too long and would cause too much suffering. Pills were mess-free and painless, but Kyle had heard too many stories in which the body simply threw them back up, and the victims were found and treated before the medications took any serious effects. There were knives, but Kyle didn't like the idea of bleeding out; that was the way someone died out in the wild somewhere. Although unoriginal, a gun seemed like the simplest option.
In South Park, going out to buy a gun was as easy as going out to buy a carton of milk. He chose a black hand gun, nothing too fancy. He drove back home with it, and he couldn't stop thinking about how the thing that was going to kill him was in his jacket pocket. About how he was going to die when he got home. The idea was so definite and final that Kyle was almost excited about it.
Kyle was sitting on Eric's bed, contemplating whether to shoot himself in the mouth or to just blow his brains out directly. He didn't count on the front door opening. He didn't count on Kenny coming home so soon. Kenny's eyes were immediately glued to the weapon.
"Kyle, what are you doing?"
"Get out of here, Kenny. I don't want you to see this."
"Look, I don't know what's going on, but we can talk about it. Is it your job? Come on, whatever it is, we can fix it. "
Tears pooled up in Kyle's eyes and spilled over. "It's not me that needs fixing. I'm the one who broke him."
"Look, you're not making any sense. Just put the gun down, and we can—"
"I killed him, Kenny! I killed Stan."
Kenny took a deep breath and swallowed hard. "Kyle, Stan is fine. I just dropped Eric off at his house, and I assure you, he's perfectly alive."
"That's not Stan."
"Okay. Where is Stan, then?"
Kyle only moved his arms slightly and Kenny pounced out of nowhere. Kyle wasn't attempting to hurt himself. He didn't even mean to pull the trigger. The gunshot was louder than it was in movies. It took a moment for him to orient himself, but when he did, he saw blood. Blood everywhere. Kyle patted down his body to search for the bullet wound, but he couldn't find one. Kenny sputtered next to him.
Kenny's eyes were hollow. He wasn't blinking, his eyes were just... open. There was so much blood Kyle couldn't even tell where it was coming from. He couldn't panic. Kyle's shock outweighed his horror.
"Oh my god. I killed Kenny."
Kyle brought the gun up to his temple.
"Did you hear about the murder?"
"I heard it was a double-suicide."
"Kenny killed Kyle and then he killed himself!"
"No, they found the gun in Kyle's hand, so it must have been the other way around."
"Wait, Kyle Broflovski? Why would he want to kill himself?"
"They say that his girlfriend left around the same time he started getting depressed."
"That's so sad."
Their funerals were incidentally held on the same day. Kyle's mother, father, brother, sister-in-law, niece, and nephew all attended Kyle's services. The synagogue overflowed with students and teachers who knew him from work. Kenny's funeral was considerably smaller. Kenny's father was long dead and his older brother did not have a job. Karen arranged his funeral, but she could only afford a burial, so no ceremony was held afterward.Besides Kenny's mother, Carol, her two young children she'd had after Karen had left, and a few scattered acquaintances, no one attended. Karen, stubborn as ever, refused to see the family she left behind. One day Eric stopped going to school, and no one in South Park ever saw or heard from the Cartmans again.
Twelve years later, Stan sat in a waiting room. A few others were in there with him, all people around his age. A curly-haired brunette woman with a clipboard called him into a hallway.
"Dr. Stotch will see you now."
Stan took the third door to the right. Inside, the walls were white and photo-free, and the dark and earthy tones of the furniture felt sharp against the contrast. Still, everything came together in an enclosed, safe way. Potted plants were on the desk next to the sofa and in all four corners of the room. Stan was surprised to realize they were real and not rubber. This comforted him for some reason.
"Well, hello there, young man."
Dr. Stotch had an open, friendly face. His bright blue eyes twinkled behind half-moon glasses, and although he didn't look particularly old, the rich tuff of hair atop his head was completely white.
"My name Dr. Leopold Stotch, but you can call me Leo if you'd like to."
"I just want to you to know that anything you say here is completely confidential, unless you are in danger of harming yourself or someone else."
Leo crossed his legs and smiled.
"So how about you tell me a little bit about yourself."
"Um, my name is Stan Marsh, I go to North Park Community College, I play football there, um..."
"Alright. So what brings you in today, Stan?"
Stan took a deep breath.
"I just want to talk about some stuff that happened... a while ago. Bad stuff that I never told anyone about, but I think I'm ready now."
Leo nodded and jotted down a few notes before looking up and smiling.
Stan blew out his mouth.
"It's a little tough. Sometimes I'm not even sure if what happened really happened, you know? Like, maybe I made half of it up in my head. I honestly can't even remember most of their names. I don't even know where to start."
"Well, in my experience, I find it best to start from the beginning."
"Okay. So, when I was about nine, this kid named Eric transferred into my class..."